It´s productive and fun to periodically brainstorm a ton of ideas for growing and improving your business or department. There are complex processes you could follow and professional facilitators like myself you could hire. Sometimes, depending on the scope of your inquiry, getting help and doing it up right makes sense.
For most of us, getting several interesting people together over pizzas or chinese food for a brainstorming meeting does just fine. No fancy schmancy stuff needed. Here´s the quick and dirty way to generate a ton of ideas (some good ones) in a short period of time.
1. Set the meeting a week in advance. Let people know you are picking up the tab for lunch (or dinner) and arrange to have something delivered.
2. Invite a diversity of people. D-I-V-E-R-S-I-T-Y is the key. Don´t just invite the most logical people, invite people who might have one cursory connection to the topic (or none). The group should not get over 10. Invite the person in an entirely diffiernt part of the company but who is known for having good ideas.
3. A couple days before the meeting: Tell the group the topic/subject/part of the business about which you are going to ask for ideas. Repeat after me: "This is a brainstorming session. I will ask for and welcome all ideas succinctly expressed, even those that are off the wall and contrary to my beliefs. I will ask that we not deliberate each idea, but that we focus this session on generating ideas and enjoying the food and company. No ideas are bad or unwelcome, but please take no longer than 1 minute to express each one.”
4. Create a set of questions that will focus the input on the topic, project, or process that is of interest to you. It could be something as narrow as improving the efficiency of the accounts receivable process to a broad topic like identifying new ways to generate revenue.
5. Set up the brainstorming room 30 minutes before the food and people arrive. There are lots of ways to set it up, here´s an easy way to go that reduces your writing duties:
A. Put a 3X5 Post It Pad and thin marker (not pen) in front of each seat. You are going to ask people to write their own ideas. Put several pieces of flip-chart paper on the walls to categorize the ideas later. Have extra markers and Post It pads available.
B. Type up the thought generating questions and put several copies on the table so that each person can look onto a copy (in-between pizza boxes and napkins). (thought generating questions are below)
C. Sit in the room a moment and resolve to be excited and open. Your job is to ensure that ideas do not get shot down and to ask whatever questions are necessary to tap into people´s best ideas. Get the juices flowing, don´t worry about the answers themselves.
6. Wait for the food and people to arrive. Thank them before the brainstorming session starts and get things rolling by framing the topic, process, or project about which you want ideas.
7. Enjoy the meeting. Keep the ideas flowing. Ensure people are not taking 10 minutes to explain an idea.
8. If there is time, ask the group to help you categorize or group the ideas. If there´s not time, you can do that later.
9. Reflect on your ideas. How does this change things? Are there any ideas that warrant further thought? Perhaps an idea will inspire another idea.
10. Use the input and let people know if was valuable. You may want to get the group, or some portion of it, back together to flesh out 2 or 3 of the ideas.
Here´s the thought generating questions (taken from my free meeting cheat sheets, you can get your copy here and just print it out and you´re done):
What are your ideas for how we should/can ______?
If money or resources were not a constraint, how would we approach this problem/opportunity?
If we were to design this from scratch, how would we do it?
Put yourself in our customer´s shoes. How would they want us to approach this?
Put yourself in our supplier´s shoes. How would they want us to approach this?
What ideas do you have related to technology?
What ideas do you have related to processes?
What ideas do you have related to people?
What ideas do you have related to product?
What ideas do you have related to value and profitability?
How would our competitors do this?
What´s the most off the wall idea you can think of?
Here´s another one that´s not on the cheat sheet:
Name an idea that you think I would hate but that you think has merit.
When was the last time you asked people for their ideas – all their ideas – on a topic? Give it a try and let me know how it goes.