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Preparing a brainstorm: 3 essential tips for great results

Hoofdafbeelding bij Brainstormsessie voorbereiden: in drie stappen naar topresultaat

Do you still believe that being creative means having to let go of structure? And do you also believe that just laying down post-its is enough preparation for a successful brainstorm? Think again. People often say that 90% of success lies in a good preparation. Of course, brainstorm sessions are no exception.

If you don’t want to be disappointed any longer with the outcome of brainstorm sessions and you’d like to organise a session with really useful results, make sure to take these three essential steps during and after the preparatory conversation with your client: the Knowing, Feeling & Doing Triangle; the Stakeholder Circle; and Facilities.


Part 1: The Exploration Triangle

Are you planning a brainstorm session with your client? Make sure that you’ve prepared the Knowing, Feeling and Doing Triangle. This will give you handles to hold on to and understand the current situation, the client’s drive, and the future-proofness of the final plans. How will those three factors help you achieve the results you want?

1.1 Knowing: an outline of the situation

Draw the outline of the situation: what is the essence of the problem or the question? What has your client done already to solve the problem? How big is the problem? What goals does the client want to achieve? Make sure to bring all the facts to the table and think about the whole picture.

Besides that, find out whether your client is the one making the final decisions. Does anyone else in the organisation have to agree with the outcome? Or is it possible to implement the plans from the brainstorm session directly? If your client isn’t the one making the tough decisions, it might be smart to invite the person who is. At the very least, get this person on board.

Is there an issue that needs to be solved? In that case, transforming this issue into a well-structured question is essential. But how do you do this? By reading our article: 7 tricks to build the perfect brainstorm question.

1.2 Feeling: do you feel the drive?

During this part of the conversation you will need your gut. Do you really feel this person sitting opposite you has the urge to solve the problem? Do you notice drive, energy, and enthusiasm in your client? Then you’ll be fine. The brainstorm just got the green light.

However, does your gut tell you that your client is not really into this brainstorm? s he talking about opportunities and solutions, but at the same time radiating unhappiness? This means an orange light.

ime to hit the brakes and communicate your feelings. Ask questions and find out whether it was his choice to brainstorm or if he just got told to do it. Make sure to know in advance if this is an alternative team building assignment, or maybe the client himself doesn’t feel like doing a brainstorm. In that case, you’ll structure the brainstorm completely differently. Maybe you’ll even come to the conclusion that a brainstorm session is not the way to go.

If a brainstorm session is just meant for fun, a creativity training or a mind storm – in which participants brainstorm about their own questions- will be much more suitable. Brainstorm well or don’t brainstorm at all – that’s where we stand for.

1.3 Doing: is this future proof?

Nothing more frustrating than concluding a brainstorm with impressive results, only to find out nothing will be done with them. That is why you keep quizzing: is the client willing and able to implement the ideas and results?

Make sure the organisation has the manpower and means to develop the plans further. Will the organisation act? Yes? Good. We won’t take anything less.

Part two: The Stakeholder Analysis

During this step, you focus on the stakeholders of the brainstorm session. Who are the main characters in this story? Who are people most affected by the problem and its solution. When you’ve got this figured out, you’ll know exactly who to give a role in the session – and who to avoid!

2.1 Main and supporting roles

Get the stakeholder model out, or draw it yourself, three circles aren’t that hard to draw, and fill in the circles. You put the people who are the most affected by the outcome of the brainstorm session in the center. That could be the client, but it could also be another person, who has ordered the session. Around them, you place the people who are a little less involved.

Put the people that might influence each other close together, or place them far away from the rest.

Find out what kind of role these people have within the group. Are they (informal) decision makers; the ones you need on board? Or maybe they’re influencers who are watching from the side lines, but still have a decent finger in the pie. Lastly, they could be the gatekeepers: for example the administrative assistants, or the secretary of the board. In other words: the people who can grant access to the top of the organisation.

2.2 Form a dream team

Now that you’ve got everyone on board; the main characters, supporting roles, and other parties involved: it’s time to make an ideal setup for your brainstorm team. Beware, just like in the sports world, don’t just look at the top players, but also look at which combination has the best chemistry. It could mean that an important, but little enthusiastic head of department shouldn’t join the brainstorm, but fulfill a different role. It could mean involving the receptionist, who is always overflowing with original ideas.

Pro tip: make sure to give your target group a role in the session as well. It’s 100 times more effective to test your ideas directly with your target group – they might even come up with ideas that no-one else would have thought of!

2.3 The formula for the ideal composition

Are you wondering about who to invite to your brainstorm? This is a useful principle: the 40/40/20 rule. 40% specialists, 40% generalists and 20% wizards.

The 40% specialists are the experts; they know everything about the subject.

The 40% generalists are the all-rounders who know enough about the subject, but also know a lot about other subjects. With internal brainstorm sessions, these are often the people who work at other departments.

And the 20% wizards are the creative souls, who will bring thinking outside the box to the table.

Besides the wizards, there are 4 other stereotypes you’ll often meet during brainstorm sessions: shadows, bosses, critics and deputies. Learn to recognise them and use that to your advantage.

Part 3: The facilities of facilitating

No matter how well prepared you are, if you don’t have enough scrap paper and pens, and the room is as boring as can be, you still will not generate the best possible results, which of course are the whole point. So make sure the facilities are ideal and arranged to perfection.

Who has the responsibility for the arrangements? That is also something to establish in advance. Assumption is the mother of all fuckups. ‘I thought you were supposed to bring the post-its!’ or ‘I assumed you already sent the invitations!’. These situations would obviously really suck.

Don’t overlook details. It wouldn’t be the first time a client says he has lots of post-its at the office. And then you find out he means like 50, while you need at least 200. Or they are all the same colour, while you assumed they had the popular cheerful multi-coloured ones.

Furthermore, an appropriate location is downright important. How can you be at your most creative when the room stinks and has a system ceiling?! Read our article about the Brain Fuel Funnel to learn more about how to pick a suitable location.

3.1 And then…. check, double check, triple check!

When you’ve finally got all the necessary information out of your client, your intuition says it is going to be a good one, your stakeholders are all on board, you’ve put together a dream team; then you can start ticking items on the much needed checklists.

This way, you make sure you have done everything to be able to launch an excellent brainstorm.

Checklist 1: The 4 Cs of the client

  • Caring: does the client care about solving the problem?
  • Capable: does the client have the necessary capabilities and means?
  • Competent: will the client use good ideas to take action?
  • Certified: is the client allowed to make certain decisions?

Checklist 2: The participants

  • How many participants will join?
  • Are there (40%) specialists present?
  • Are there (40%) generalists present?
  • Are there (20%) wizards present?
  • Optional: representatives of the target group
  • Optional: brainstorm stereotypes check (scientists, wizards, bosses, deputies, critics)
  • Optional: male/female ratio

Checklist 3: Facilities

  • Who invites who at what time?
  • Did anyone book a space?
  • Does the space meet all our needs?
  • What materials do we need?
  • Who brings what?

Finally. Here we are. Ticked all the boxes? Then you have officially done everything in your power to make this a magical, useful and effective brainstorm session. Ready, set, go.

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