Ideas for a potential startup can come to mind anytime, anywhere: when you’re standing in line at the supermarket, stuck in traffic on the highway or walking to the refrigerator. But these random samplings of “inspiration” are not sustainable to fuel a startup. To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to consider implementing a methodology for generating ideas. It’s called brainstorming.
In the ideation stage of a potential startup, brainstorming is important. It helps to develop a strategy for the startup. It makes connections in new and different ways. It combines old, existing and new ideas in spontaneous ways.
What exactly is “brainstorming”? It is pressing on your mind – like high winds and pounding rain in a storm – to dive deep into “information databases” in your mind (intellect) to come up with new ideas to solve a problem, add value, or make an improvement or advancement.
You have learned so many different things in your life, both consciously and subconsciously. Brainstorming allows you to tap into it, activating the side of your brain that is creative and adept at problem-solving.
Five Best Practices: How to Conduct an Effective Brainstorming Meeting
The following are five best practices that will help you to have an effective and productive brainstorming session:
- Those people whom you invite to a brainstorming session should have different points of view, perspectives and expertise. A diversity of thought will lead to a more productive brainstorming session. An example may be to have an operations expert, a digital product expert, a generalist, a financial person and an art director in the room with you for the brainstorming. Be honest with yourself about what expertise you bring and then surround yourself with complimentary experts.
- As you articulate ideas in a brainstorming session, there should be no judgment or evaluation of the particular idea in the moment. Just capture it in writing and then move on. (If you start to analyze it, it could stifle your creative problem-solving and spontaneous thinking. Cultural biases and existing ways of thinking may influence you too bold, cutting off new ways of thinking.)
- The hallmark of most brainstorming sessions is speed. People share ideas fast. The reason for it is a key ingredient – spontaneity. You should be expressing spontaneous ideas, which usually come so quickly that your “logical mind” does not have the time to “judge” them.
- A brainstorming session should be done in a big room with a lot of wall space or easels with flip charts. White boards are also common. Write everything down on the big papers and hang them all around the room until no more wall space is available. Or fill up the whiteboards all around the room (or both). Just make sure you capture all ideas indiscriminately. Another aspect of brainstorming is that it is typical to stand up when you are thinking and talking. You should be free to walk around the room, look at previous ideas up on the board and feel the freedom to move and think.
Encouraging the Unusual
- In a brainstorming session, unusual ideas should be encouraged and celebrated. It should be your goal to come up with things that are different and unique. You want to break conventional wisdom. This will allow you to transcend existing circumstances and get closer to the idea that will lead you to a product-market fit.
What Not to Do in Brainstorming
A bad approach to brainstorming, in contrast to the best practices, would be to do any of the following:
- Analyze each idea as it is verbalized during the session
- Allow participants to criticize each other, such as saying “That’s dumb” or “That won’t work” when someone suggests an idea that sounds outlandish (but, unbeknownst to the group, could be a million-dollar idea)
- Discourage unusual and unique ideas, while encouraging conventional wisdom, as if nothing can be improved
- Allow ego to get in the way, shutting down the opportunity for everyone to speak on an equal basis
- Punish honesty and transparency
As an entrepreneur, you will become a leader who is responsible for creating the atmosphere for a brainstorming session. You need to pick the right space, set the ground rules ahead of the meeting (or at least at the start of the meeting) and enforce the rules by calling people out when they don’t honor the rules, such as “avoid judgment of anyone’s idea during the session.”
It is in your power to create an environment of mutual respect, diversity and the spark of spontaneous thinking that can lead to your starting a company that will make a difference in the world.