The Power of Brainstorming

Phrases like ‘two heads are better than one’ and ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ are all too familiar, and I suspect you can think of specific examples to prove them right – but do you apply this in your business with your own team? Are you harnessing the power of brainstorming?


Why your team are not a creative power house.

I suspect the majority of businesses start out the same way. Somebody has an idea or decides they’d be better off working for themselves – and gets on with it.

The embryonic stages of most businesses require an owner who can turn their hand to a variety of different tasks with no loss of enthusiasm or self-belief. It suits people who are self-reliant.

The problem is that for many business owners this becomes a habit, and if you’re really unlucky it becomes a badge of honour.


The Superhero Complex.

Over time the owner of the business can become quite attached to the idea of being the one with all the answers. Add in a little dash of control-freakery and perfectionism and you’ve got the makings of a great business superhero.

At the first hint of a problem or mistake, on go the red under-crackers and cape and out come the answers.

The team doesn’t have to stress or be creative. You’ll do that for them.


Who wants change? Who wants to Change?

Who wants change? Who wants to change? – Learning in the Modern Workplace

It’s easy at this stage to complain that your employees aren’t engaged. That they don’t care as much as you do. That everything is on your shoulders.

But many people find it hard to fix because deep down they quite like being Superman or Superwoman.


Harnessing the brainpower of your team.

There’s a great quote in the book Shoe Dog by Phil Knight (a great read by the way): “Don’t tell your team how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you.”

It speaks to the power of employing capable people and giving them the agency to be creative.

Now when you read that you’re probably thinking of senior level employees. But why would we restrict it to just them?

Tim Berners-Lee was a software engineer at CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) in the 1980s when he dreamed up the concept of a world wide web as a means to facilitate the sharing of information between researchers within the organisation.

The power of brainstorming is not just to spit out fully formed ideas. It’s to allow thoughts to trigger other thoughts which might then coalesce into an idea that might just make a difference.


How to run an awesome brainstorming session.

If you’ve got this far there’s a fair chance your convinced enough – or at least curious enough – to try this for yourself.

But how do you make sure it’s a success? How do you prevent that awkward tumbleweed moment?

Follow these 10 tips and you’ll be in serious danger of harnessing the collective brainpower of your team and taking your business’ innovation up a factor or two.


  1. Give people advanced warning.

    If you’ve never done this before (shown any interest in their opinions) the change of gear will likely catch them off guard. Give them a heads up. Ie “I’m wrestling with the challenge of getting more referrals from our existing customers and I’d love to get your ideas on it. It’s really important to the business because … [fill in something genuine].”

  2. Choose somewhere conducive to creativity and freedom of expression.

    This should be quality time so get away from those ringing phones and pinging emails.

  3. Do it during working hours.

    You may do overtime for free but you shouldn’t expect that of your team.

  4. Remember the ‘because’.

    Because ‘because’ is one of the most important words in the English language. Our ears prick up. At the beginning of the session set clear objectives and position why this session and their ideas are so important to you and the business. Explain What’s In It For Them. It may sound cringey, but if you engage their hearts, they will engage their brains.

  5. Set the ground rules’.

    A big fear for most people is the fear of ridicule and you’ll have to remove that if you want people to really open up. Everyone’s contribution is vital. Elect a timekeeper to make sure everyone gets to speak. There are no silly ideas. There’s a time and a place for teasing or banter – and this isn’t it.

  6. Ensure everyone gets to contribute.

    Begin the brainstorming part of the session with each person working independently and writing down their ideas. 3 per person seems to work pretty well. You could do more but don’t ask for less as quantity beats quality hands down at this stage. The act of writing them down helps creativity. Remember, you’re not looking for one fully-formed awesome idea straight out of the pipe – you’re looking for volume. The silly, half-formed throw-away suggestion chucked in frivolously at the end could just turn into your diamond.

  7. Play by “Yes, and” rules.

    If you employ contrarian and logical thinkers, you’re lucky – but they will have to fight the initial reaction of “no, but” when they hear a new idea. At best this shuts down creativity and at worse it’ll offend people and wind them up. This session should be creative, energised and fun. Start from the perspective that you’ll find something to praise in every idea which you can then add to.

  8. Capture ideas in writing.

    Use a whiteboard / flip chart and capture everything. We process information in different ways and adding a visual element to a discussion will elevate it for many if not most.

  9. Agree on a framework to evaluate ideas.

    For example, you could decide the criteria are budget, internal resources / skillsets, timescale / pay-off and how well it fits with your vision or culture. You can then agree on a score out of 10 against each of these criteria as an objective way of developing, filtering and prioritising ideas.

  10. Priortise. 

    One idea executed well beats any number executed badly. A great idea with a half-arsed strategy & plan to it will likely fizzle and fail. Pick an idea and use the plan to give it critical mass. Think of every single little thing required to make it a success. To put it another way: imagine 10 of your competitors are about to implement exactly the same idea. How do you do it better than at least 8 of them?


The bonus 11th Tip is in the end the most important

  • Be seen to follow through.

    If you follow these steps with genuine energy your team will step up and you will get some great ideas to action. If you then get caught up with other stuff and forget about it, your payoff will be increased cynicism and reduced engagement. Set a date for when you’ll report back. Get the team involved in the execution. Create champions for aspects of the idea – or all of it. Be seen to follow through. Share the wins.


Are you listening, or are you waiting for the opportunity to speak?

Man With A Megaphone Free Stock Photo - Public Domain Pictures

We all want engaged employees who care about the business and contribute to its success. But that can’t happen unless you genuinely value your team and their ideas.

Here’s a great example of what I’m driving at.

There’s a great TED Talk by Julian Treasure called ‘How to speak so that people want to listen’. It’s got 40 million views.

There’s another great TED Talk also by Julian Treasure called ‘5 ways to listen better.’ That one has got 4.5 million views.

If you’re genuinely curious, and you genuinely believe your employees have great ideas within them, try it.

You might just be surprised by the result.


If this resonates and you’d like to talk about you and your team, get in touch.