Brainstorms are great fun, bringing teams together and creating brilliant ideas. The key ingredient is the people, but the environment is important too.
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So what is the best environment to host a brainstorm? Well that all depends on your audience and your budget. But let’s start with the basics.
The most important thing is to have a safe environment where people are happy to pitch ideas and don’t feel stupid or wrong. This is more important than all the furnishings and tech company gizmos. I enforce this by posting on the wall and reading out my brainstorming rules and making people stick to them.
State the purpose of the brainstorm
Do not judge ideas
Encourage wild ideas
Go for quantity
One conversation at a time
Build on ideas
Sort ideas and record results
Having got this sorted out, let’s take a step back and look at the room and the key bits of kit.
It needs to be big enough for the people who are coming and preferably have wall space for PostIt notes, seating for everyone and a table. You want to be able to make a fair bit of noise and not being overheard. This is not essential.
I have had a great brainstorm sitting on the pavement outside a café plastering their window with my ideas, but a bit of privacy helps, especially with confidential material. Daylight and fresh air are a big help, they make it a more pleasant environment and keep you awake.
People need space to think, and to stick PostIt notes
Now it might be that you don’t have access to this. The answer here is very simple, go out. Coffee shops have hosted idea generators for centuries and there are a plethora of free and public spaces available to go to.
For those with a bit of budget, hotels have rooms and there are plenty of funky start-ups hiring trendy rooms on a pay as you go basis. You can absorb artistic endeavour at an art gallery or appreciate the grandeur of a park, whatever suits you.
Relevance is important, you will want a different set up for a group of corporate bankers to a tech start up with everyone under 21.
A lot has been written on the effects of different colours, how orange is high energy and blue is calming. White is fine for me, but feel free to get the paint brush out if it works for you.
Trends change, in the 90’s a beanbag room was the height of creativity, but I am a firm believer that beanbags don’t make you creative. Use them as comfy seating if you must, but don’t rely on your décor to make people creative.
Kit however is important. It can be basic, but you do need to be able to perform some tasks. The most important of all is writing stuff down. I am a huge people that there are those who forget and those who write things down. PostIt notes in piles are a good start and a flip board/ whiteboard.
There are high tech options, but these are not necessary. Getting ideas down and collating is essential so you need to make sure that this is easy and works for you. A computer of some sort is really helpful as it will allow you to look up things and test people’s ideas, confirm facts, see if something has been done before.
Drinks and snacks are great for energy levels and they make the brainstorm a bit of a treat, have things you would not normally. Never underestimate the power of the humble doughnut.
It's fun to unwind, but don't overdo it...
When you see pictures of Google and Facebook, they have these crazy offices with slides, free food everywhere and toys, so what is the point? Coming up with ideas is hard and draining work. You need to take regular breaks and reset your mind.
Nipping off to clear your emails does not really do this, so there are lots of other things. From table football to space hoppers, a short period of something different and fun can refresh you, reset the mind and get you ready to go again.
But at the end of the day it is about the people, getting them relaxed and in a mind-set where they feel they can safely pump out the ideas.