After the brainstorm session: so now what?

One of the easiest ways to kill the creativity in the room at a brainstorming / idea generation session is for someone to start playing editor. This person might be the facilitator, editing and critiquing as they scribe ideas onto a flipchart in front of the hapless group. Or they may be the most senior person in the room, grandstanding and naysaying, “We tried that in 2011 and it didn’t work…” Or it may be group of members from a particular discipline or department in the organisation, whose role encompasses assessing and dealing with risk. How can you avoid this lethal dose of doom (and yes, it just might be reality)?

Here’s my suggestion: keep the idea generation and idea evaluation sessions separate.

Think about it: the objectives are completely different. With idea generation the aim is to collaborate and create heaps of different ideas. With idea evaluation the aim is almost the opposite: to weigh up and whittle down those ideas until only the best ones are left standing.

Take these 8 steps to ensure all those ideas get a fair hearing:

  1. Be crystal clear at the idea generation session that all ideas are welcome AND that all ideas will be evaluated at a separate session. This will reassure any restive critics and editors in the room.
  2. Have a clear break between idea generation and evaluation sessions. This may be half an hour, but ideally longer. The ‘overnight test’ can work well here.
  3. Consider a different cast of characters for idea evaluation. The naysayer who never seems to have any big ideas in a brainstorm can be invaluable for evaluating ideas.
  4. Have a clearly stated objective, such as ‘to get to a shortlist of up to 5 ideas to take forward to initial feasibility and presentation to the exec’.
  5. Factor evaluation into the timing – you will almost certainly need more than one meeting to get to a minimum viable product, but at least you can factor in the initial evaluation session, the output of which is a shortlist. This part of the process can get gritty, which is why it may need more time than the initial idea generation.
  6. Agree the essential criteria for an idea to make it through to the next stage, and keep these displayed throughout.
  7. As with idea generation, use a variety of tools and techniques to weigh up ideas. For example, you might use a simple 2 x 2 matrix with axes such as ‘speed to market’ and ‘cost’ or a SWOT analysis – see here for more on SWOT, courtesy of businessballs. Or try a criteria analysis – click this link for a clear guide to the tool by Mind Tools. Some organisations will use a Force Field Analysis – you can find more info from University of Cambridge’s engineering faculty here. You can apply a ‘traffic lights’ voting system where red = stop right now, amber = possible and green = good to go to next stage.
  8. Remember to update all those who contributed to your idea generation session on progress. Explain which ideas are going forward and why. Keep people updated as things progress.


Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.

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