Building a Bridge to Big Ideas Through Brainstorming

| By Editorial Staff

Riddle us this: A group of people are desperately trying to get from one side of a river to another without getting wet or drowning. How do they do it?

Bridge with River -- Deviant

 … Give up? They cross the bridge.

While that riddle may seem silly or a part of the routine delivered by Captain Obvious, we mention it here to emphasize the importance – and benefit – of bridges. Bridges help us go places we normally couldn’t go. They keep us moving forward while helping us overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.

When it comes to unearthing the big ideas that move mountains, you’re bound to face your fair share of obstacles. You’ll inevitably come upon a raging river looking to swallow you whole. While the other side of the river is where your big idea is buried, you can’t for the life of you figure out how to get there.

At those times, when you think you’ve gone as far as you can, when you think your only option is to turn back, remember the bridge. And on your journey toward earth-shattering innovation, the bridge that will lead you to salvation is called Brainstorming.

The benefits of brainstorming

Brainstorming is a lot like walking on the right side of a hallway. We don’t stop to think why we do it. We just know we’ve been taught it our whole lives, so we might as well play the game.

But just like right-side, walking will keep you safe. There is true value in brainstorming, beyond just the “because my teacher told me so” notion. Brainstorming is the ultimate idea generator that not only helps give life to big ideas, but also fosters teamwork and a sense of belonging. In an age where collaboration is the key toward long-term success, brainstorming is the key ring.

How to brainstorm

Most people get the concept of brainstorming – bring a group of people together into one room to throw ideas around until something sticks. But going into a brainstorming session unprepared is like jumping off the Captain Obvious Bridge without a bungee cord. You’ll make a big splash – but not the kind you want.

There are typically three phases to a brainstorming session. By understanding each phase – and being prepared for them – you and your team will get the most out of your time together and will increase the likelihood of discovering that big idea that will change the world.

Phase One

At the onset of your brainstorming session, you want to be sure everyone knows the topic you’re looking to dissect. In other words – what’s the problem you’re trying to solve? During the session, hundreds and hundreds of ideas will be batted around. In order to ensure those ideas all contribute – in some way – to the bigger picture, you have to be certain the group understands the overarching goal and focus.

Once the topic is clear, rules should be put into place. Be sure, however, not to get rule-crazy, as too much restriction will limit imagination. A few simple rules that are good to post on the wall or whiteboard are:

    • No deep discussions (yet). Just toss out ideas.
    • No judgments on any proposed ideas (yet).
    • We encourage hitchhiking (this is where one idea gives way to another).

Now that the rules are set, and the topic is clear, it’s time to let the ideas roll off the tongues. Typically one person is a scribe, and jots down these ideas on a whiteboard. Allow a sufficient amount of time (15 – 20 minutes usually works) for your group to come up with original (and hitchhiking) ideas. Once time expires, take a break, change scribes, and repeat the idea session again.

Phase Two

Phase one has left you with a ton of ideas scattered across the wall, ceiling, tables, forearms … just about everywhere. That’s a good thing. The more ideas you have, the better. Now that everything including the kitchen sink has been proposed as a solution to your problem, it’s time to make sense of the madness. Phase two will have your group organize your notes into general categories. Post-it notes are pretty remarkable here. Write the names of your chosen categories on a board, then arrange your ideas (written on Post-it notes) under each logical category.

Often times you’ll find that many ideas are similar, but worded differently. During this phase, combine as many ideas as you can to minimize the number of Post-it notes you have.

Phase Three

During phase three, it’s time to examine, question, and explain each idea in detail. Here’s where your group begins to toss out the illogical ideas, or put aside those that don’t seem to provide a complete solution. You’ll end up with a smaller list, which you can then organize into importance, logistic feasibility, affordability, or any other category.

With this list created, the group should ask itself: does each idea address our original topic (chosen in phase one)? A fun and visual way of assessing each idea is to have your group members place stickers next to the ideas they feel best address the issue. The ideas with the most stickers will be the ones that are pursued and examined.

By the time you complete your brainstorming session, you should come away with one, or a handful of ideas that specifically address your problem or obstacle. You’ve set the framework for an innovative concept or product. In other words, you’ve crossed the bridge and survived the raging waters. Congratulations. Now it’s time to turn concept into reality.