8 brainstorming rules to spark your team's next big idea

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Consider this your playbook for your next brainstorming session. Bring brainstorming rules to the meeting and you’re sure to keep your session well managed and nurture creativity from your team at the same time.If people are hesitant about joining the session because they believe they aren’t creative, share some of these myths about creativity.

Remind them they were invited because you believe they have value to add. Buy-in to your brainstorming session itself needs to happen before buy-in to any rules you have.

Why set rules for brainstorming?

Brainstorming is about getting inspired so your team can come up with the next big idea. You might think that setting rules will limit people’s ability to come up with bold new ideas.Although that makes sense (after all, rule breakers have all the fun, right?), having a set of rules in brainstorming sessions will actually inspire greater creativity.

Jeff Goins sees rules as lending structure to the creative process. Think of rules as creating a framework to fuel new ideas.Here are some brainstorming session rules you can use to coax out the best ideas from your team. Put these to work and we’re confident you’ll have better brainstorming.

1. Set your brainstorming ground rules ahead of time

Before your team meets, set a few ground rules. Communicate the mission of the session and keep it clear and focused. When your team walks into the meeting room, they’ll already know what’s expected from them.

Here are a few ground rules to get you started:

       
  • Arrive on time so creative energy doesn’t get thrown off track once it starts rolling
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  • Make the session’s goals clear and keep a focus on them
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  • Tangents that build off of other ideas are great, but they should relate to the session’s goals
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  • Never negate, undermine or snicker at an idea (negative input is a surefire way to shut down creativity in the room)
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  • Go with the trusty “Yes, and” instead of “No, but”
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  • One person talks at a time (when people can blurt out ideas and that gets in the way of another great idea in the making)

2. Give your team homework

It’s hard for people to be creative on the spot. Give your team some lead time and ask them to prepare ideas in advance. People feed off each other in brainstorming sessions. The more ideas they have when they walk into the room, the more ideas will grow from them.

3. More is (usually) better

Don’t hinder your success by capping the number of ideas. Let them flow without getting in their way.In brainstorming, quantity often outweighs quality. Strive to generate as many ideas as possible. The more ideas you have the more likely you are to walk away with the great ones you came to find - or at least you’ll get a few steps closer.Aim to have people bring quality ideas, too.

The ground rule that reminds people to stay focused on the session’s goals can steer them in a good direction. You might need to bring up this brainstorming session rule a few times to keep their inspiration on track.

4. Rules for brainstorming should nix distractions

Some people might be tempted to use their cell phones to research their ideas. Nip that impulse in the bud. Make it a brainstorming session rule that mobile devices need to stay tucked away. Tweaking ideas to perfection isn’t what brainstorming is about.When people depend on research for related ideas or even use a thesaurus too early it stops the flow of creativity and might narrow people’s ideas. In your brainstorming session pay attention to potential distractions and steer people back to their creative thinking.

5. Encourage laughter

A little laughter goes a long way.Use humor to banish boredom during the brainstorming session and keep people’s creative energy high and positive. When people laugh and joke with each, they lighten the mood and feel more comfortable with each other. Research shows laughter reduces anxiety, so it’s a great antidote to people feeling stressed to produce great ideas.The tone of your brainstorming session can feed people’s creativity, so it’s important for people to feel good about the people they’re with.

6. Avoid storytelling or tangents

As healthy as humor is, it’s also important to keep the brainstorming session focused on its goals. People might offer context for their ideas by telling a related story. Adding context can help flesh out an idea and might move brainstorming forward. A storytelling sidetrack can also make people lose focus. It’s best not to muddy the waters with too much distraction.

It takes some finesse to walk the delicate line where you feed the positive mood while you keep people on task. You might stay with humor and use it when you reign in the conversation if it veers too far off topic. When you redirect conversation, always do it respectfully so you don’t bruise egos. If you do, they’ll shut down and others might notice this and be less inclined to speak up. The brainstorming engine could all but come to a stop if the mood in the room shifts.

7. Follow your start and end times religiously

Starting on time is an excellent way to set the tone for your meeting. It shows you’re serious about getting the work done and you don’t want to waste anyone’s time.During the meeting, no matter how much fun people are having, it’s important for them to know there’s an end in sight. Trying to brainstorm for hours on end is exhausting.

You might set a timer for segments of the meeting. Stick to the time limits you put in place. Or, bring up how much time is left on a few occasions. This will create a sense of urgency to the meeting, which makes it easier to keep the conversation focused and get the best ideas in the shortest amount of time.

8. Encourage a range of ideas

Feed your team’s creativity. If people hit a dry spot and your session gets stuck, you might encourage outrageous ideas for creative juices to start percolating again. As one seemingly wild idea floats to the surface, others might be inspired to come up with a different idea more closely aligned with your session’s goals.

Put brainstorming rules to into practice

Congratulations! You’re ready to give these rules a whirl. Before you head into that session, take a look at these tips on how to facilitate a brainstorming session so that you’re sure to leave the room with great ideas.After you road test these rules, find which ones work best for you and leave us a comment. Do you have some brainstorming session rules to add? Let us know.