For your business to succeed, it needs to embrace new ideas and be open to changing established processes or products. The business landscape has been changing rapidly over the past 14 months, and the road ahead is still uncertain. The change in how and where we work necessitates that we establish new ways of generating novel and innovative ideas. New ideas can be discovered by happenstance, but often are a product of an active and intentional process. Brainstorming is the most common tool used by teams to generate game-changing ideas.

Why Brainstorming?

Brainstorming, mind mapping, and hundreds of other techniques like them are all variations in pursuit of the same simple objective – to encourage the synthesis and flow of unconstrained ideas. When the power of creative thought is engaged, solutions to difficult problems and groundbreaking ideas are forged. A team that works remotely is an added layer of complexity to an already difficult endeavor.

Three common obstacles to a successful brainstorming session:

  1. Unbalanced conversation – Loud brainstorming exercises work particularly well for extroverted team members who are comfortable synthesizing ideas out loud. However, this could leave introverted members out of the conversation. In general, introverts prefer to process and piece concepts together internally before sharing, so their ideas may not be heard in this environment.
  2. Awkward silence – Nothing sucks the energy out of a meeting like an awkward silence. Avoid them at all costs. Silences are often a result of participants not knowing what is expected or not feeling safe to express themselves.
  3. Lack of clarity – Few things in the office are worse than a meeting that ends without a work product or clear next steps. The most common causes are unclear objectives or sessions that go off the rails.

Remote Brainstorming Tools

When brainstorming remotely, it can feel difficult to get everyone on the same page. Luckily, technology has caught up with the needs of the digital office.

Simple but reliable

If you don’t have the time to fuss around with a new platform, you can use a sharable document to keep everyone on the same page. If your organization is set up with Microsoft, use their word processor or spreadsheet program. If your team’s prodcutivety software is less unified, try using some of Google’s office work products they live on the cloud allowing them to be accessed by same time form multiple locations.

All in on digital

If you have the time and resources, you can go the digital whiteboard route. This can be more visually stimulating and closer to the in-person experience. Digital whiteboards allow you to share a digital canvas. You can write on it, and share media, documents, and sticky notes.

If your team uses Microsoft Teams, try Microsoft Whiteboard. If your team doesn’t run on Microsoft solutions or you want to give something else a shot, both Miro and Lucid Spark offer a free version of their digital whiteboards.

Three Brainstorming Exercises You Can Do Remotely

Question bursts 10 minutes

Quick breakdown: This method is ideal for exploring a problem through questions that leads to new paths and solutions.

Summary: Participants take turns asking questions about the problem for 4 minutes. The goal is to have at least 15 questions by the end of the 4 minutes. The more surprising and provocative the questions are, the better. Questions should be short, simple, and open-ended. Experiment with divergent thinking by making random associations or taking on an alternative persona.


RULES

Step 1: Gather a small, diverse group of individuals with deep knowledge in their respective disciplines.

Step 2: Concisely describe the problem you are trying to solve and describe the benefit gained if it’s solved.

Step 3: Set a 4-minute timer and have the group take turns asking questions about the problem. During the 4-minute question burst, no one is allowed to answer any of the questions.

Question examples: What’s working? What’s not? Why? What if? What might be? Why not?

Step 4: Repeat the question burst if you’re not satisfied with the results of the first round.

Step 5: On your own, go over the questions to find the ones that open new paths to a solution.

Brainwriting 15-30 minutes

Quick breakdown: This method is useful for generating a moderate number of ideas and exploring different permutations of those ideas.

Summary: Each of your participants writes down three ideas. Then each participant gets an opportunity to expand on their colleagues’ ideas. The participants build on the original ideas by adding to them or writing down a new idea inspired by the original.


RULES

Step 1: Gather your participants. This exercise is best suited for groups between 6-4.

Step 2: Give your participants a few minutes to write down their 3 ideas.

Step 3: Instruct your participants to pass along their documents to the next person. When doing this online, make sure to layout the pass order in advance to avoid confusion.

Step 4: Give the recipients a few minutes to read and expand on the original idea.

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 until everyone has had an opportunity to look over each other’s ideas.

Step 6: Gather all the ideas and filter out duplicates.

Step 7: Look over what is left and prioritize the best ideas either on your own or as a group.

10 for 10 15 minutes

Quick breakdown: This method is great for quickly generating a large number of ideas and gaining consensus on the most popular ones.

Summary: Participants come up with as many ideas as they can within a time constraint. They then share their 10 best ideas with the group and the group votes on the best ideas.


RULES

Step 1: Gather your team together.

Step 2: Concisely describe the problem you are trying to solve.

Step 3: Give your participants 5 minutes to write down as many ideas / solutions as they can.

Step 4: Give them 2 minutes to self-select their 10 favorite ideas.

Step 5: Combine everyone’s favorite ideas on one document.

Step 6: Give everyone 10 votes and have them vote on their favorite solutions on the document. Participants can vote on their own ideas, and ideas can receive multiple votes from one person.

Step 7: In a group or on your own, explore the most popular ideas.

The flow of good ideas is necessary for a successful business. Today, going remote doesn’t mean that good ideas have to stop. There’s a whole world of software solutions and brainstorming techniques that make brainstorming with your team possible. This enables your team to stay productive no matter how far apart they may be.

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