I'm fascinated with new techniques/tools for brainstorming. We've recently started using mindmaps, and I love them. A great way to get a rapid flow of jumbled thoughts onto a whiteboard in an organized way that you can view and make good sense of.
However, tools are only as useful as the people in the rooms commitment to using them.
The single most important aspect of brainstorming that I have found to be true, is creating a safe environment & trust between participants. This means respect for everyone's ideas, no matter how 'bad' they might seem.
This is NOT the same as letting bad ideas live.
'Bad' ideas will die of natural causes at the exact moment they are meant to, but in the mean-time they may lead to an entirely new and awesome idea. That person who ventured a 'bad' idea may have an awesome idea just around the corner that needs to come out. The only really bad idea is one that never comes forward because someone kept quiet for fear of ridicule or judgement.
IDEO is the legendary design consultancy group founded by Tom Kelley, that has delivered these common 'rules'. Print out and display prominently!
THE SEVEN RULES OF BRAINSTORMING (FROM IDEO)
1) Defer judgment
Don’t dismiss any ideas.
Any idea is a good idea, no matter how crazy.
Nothing can kill the spirit of a brainstorm quicker than judging ideas before they have a chance to gain legs.
2) Encourage wild ideas
Embrace the most out-of-the-box notions because they can be the key to solutions.
The whole point of brainstorming is coming up with new and creative ideas.
3) Build on the ideas of others
No “buts”, only “ands.”
Sometimes people say crazy and bizarre things, like “make it on Mars”, but there is some element of truth in it. When you build on the ideas of others, you might bring those crazy ideas back down to earth and make them real innovations.
4) Stay focused on the topic
Always keep the discussion on target.
Otherwise you can diverge beyond the scope of what you’re trying to design for.
5) One conversation at a time
No interrupting, no dismissing, no disrespect, no rudeness.
Let people have their say.
6) Be visual
Use yellow, red and blue markers to write on big 30-inch by 25-inch Post-its that are put on a wall.
Nothing gets an idea across faster than drawing it. Doesn’t matter how terrible of a sketcher you are.
7) Go for quantity
Aim for as many new ideas as possible. In a good session, up to 100 ideas are generated in 60 minutes.
Crank the ideas out quickly.