Brainstorming Examples

Brainstorming is a broad and diverse discipline where individuals come together to discuss ways that a business can grow, improve, innovate, problem-solve and make better decisions. 

Brainstorming tends to be less common in companies with a hierarchical structure where top-down decisions are the norm. In more collaborative companies where employees have more autonomy, however, various brainstorming methods are utilized to deliver better outcomes.

In this article, we’ll discuss one hypothetical and one real-world example of brainstorming at work.

The marketing team for a meditation app

In the first example, consider a hypothetical remote marketing team that wants to find ways to encourage consumers to purchase the paid version of a meditation app.

The session facilitator starts by selecting an online remote brainstorming tool such as Miro, which allows the team to generate ideas in real-time using diagrams and sticky notes. Before the meeting, the facilitator also asks each team member to review the problem in their own time so that they come prepared.

The initial brainstorming session contains six people including the leader: a product marketing manager, a product manager, a UX designer, a content producer, and a demand generation manager. This assortment of roles is an ideal cross-functional mix and ensures that ideas come from a range of backgrounds and expertise.

The session then progresses as follows:

  1. Present the problem – in other words, how can the business encourage consumers to use the paid version of the meditation app?
  2. Five-minute review – then, the facilitator allows the team to record their thoughts on the problem for 5 minutes.
  3. Word association game – a further 10 minutes is spent on a word association game to help the creative juices start to flow. Words can either be spoken or written down and in this scenario may include “streamlined”, “ad-free”, “relaxation”, “undistracted”, “functionality”, and “rewards”.
  4. Vote on ideas – after the time has elapsed, the facilitator asks the five participants to vote on their favorite words.
  5. Brainstorm – for 20 additional minutes, the most popular words from step four form the basis of creative solutions to the problem from step one. No idea must be considered impractical or unrealistic. 
  6. List creative ideas – using mind maps, sketches, sticky notes, or a combination thereof, the team generates a list of potential solutions. For the sake of brevity, some of the ideas may include offering freemium features for a limited time, utilizing referral or reward programs, and charging consumers to remove the intrusive advertising from the free version.
  7. Conclude – in the final step, the facilitator ends the brainstorming session and schedules a meeting where the team will vote on the idea(s) with the most potential.

National Gallery of Art

Museum staff at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., wanted to formulate strategies that delivered a better experience for visitors. Staff realized that many visitors did not feel comfortable or confident interacting with the art on display because, in their own words, they “were not art people.”

To solve this problem, the museum held a brainstorming session where participants drew possible solutions on a piece of paper for 8 minutes. After the time had elapsed, each presented their solutions to the group. Another session of equal duration followed as solutions were further refined based on input from other participants.

One solution that had merit involved requiring users to attend a lecture on the museum and its collection beforehand. However, the team wondered if the idea was too prescriptive. In other words, what would happen if a visitor did not want to attend the lecture? It was also noted that this idea would be expensive to maintain since staff would need to be employed to deliver the lectures each day.

From this failed attempt came another solution to show shorter, on-demand videos that museum visitors did not have to watch if they weren’t interested. The videos, which would be shown in the museum’s atrium, would allow visitors to develop the skills to interact confidently with art. After the team agreed it was the correct solution, it was implemented in the gallery to great success.

Key takeaways:

  • Brainstorming is a broad and diverse discipline where individuals come together to discuss ways that a business can grow, improve, innovate, problem-solve or make better decisions.
  • In the first example, a marketing team wants to brainstorm ideas to encourage users to use a paid version of a meditation app. The team consisted of six people in six different roles to create an ideal cross-functional mix.
  • In the second real-world example, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., used brainstorming to solve the problem of museum visitors feeling out of their depth when viewing art. Short, on-demand videos that allowed visitors to increase their understanding proved to be the most viable solution.

Connected Brainstorming Frameworks

Starbusting

starbursting
Starbursting is a structured brainstorming technique with a focus on question generation. Starbursting is a structured form of brainstorming allowing product teams to cover all bases during the ideation process. It utilizes a series of questions to systematically work through various aspects of product development, forcing teams to evaluate ideas based on viability.

Appreciative Inquiry

appreciative-inquiry
Appreciate Inquiry (AI) is an organizational change methodology that focuses on strengths and not on weaknesses. Appreciate Inquiry was created by management professors David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s. The Appreciate Inquiry is also known as the 5-D Cycle, an iterative cycle describing five distinct phases, made of define, discover, dream, design, and destiny.

Round-robin Brainstorming

round-robin-brainstorming
Round-robin brainstorming is a collective and iterative approach to brainstorming. Brainstorming is an effective way of generating fresh ideas for an organization. Round-robin brainstorming is a balanced approach, employing an iterative, circular process that builds on the previous contribution of each participant.

Constructive Controversy

constructive-controversy
Constructive controversy is a theory arguing that controversial discussions create a good starting point for understanding complex problems. A constructive controversy discussion is performed by following six steps: organize information and derive conclusions; presenting and advocating decisions; being challenged by opposing views; conceptual conflict and uncertainty; epistemic curiosity and perspective-taking; and reconceptualization, synthesis, and integration.

Affinity Grouping

affinity-grouping
Affinity grouping is a collaborative prioritization process where group participants brainstorm ideas and opportunities according to their similarities. Affinity grouping is a broad and versatile process based on simple but highly effective ideas. It helps teams generate and then organize teams according to their similarity or likeness.

The Fishbone Diagram

fishbone-diagram
The Fishbone Diagram is a diagram-based technique used in brainstorming to identify potential causes for a problem, thus it is a visual representation of cause and effect. The problem or effect serves as the head of the fish. Possible causes of the problem are listed on the individual “bones” of the fish. This encourages problem-solving teams to consider a wide range of alternatives.

Rolestorming

rolestorming
Rolestorming as a term was first mentioned by personal development guru Rick Griggs in the 1980s.  Rolestorming is a brainstorming technique where participants pretend they are other people when sharing their thoughts and ideas.

Reverse Brainstorming

reverse-brainstorming
Reverse brainstorming takes advantage of the natural human tendency to more easily see problems than solutions. What’s more, many individuals when placed in a traditional brainstorming environment will find it difficult to become creative on command. Reverse brainstorming is an approach where individuals brainstorm the various ways a plan could fail. 

Lotus Diagram

lotus-diagram
A lotus diagram is a creative tool for ideation and brainstorming. The diagram identifies the key concepts from a broad topic for simple analysis or prioritization.

Futures Wheel

futures-wheel
The futures wheel was invented in 1971 by Jerome C. Glenn while he was studying at the Antioch Graduate School of Education.  The futures wheel is a brainstorming framework for visualizing the future consequences of a particular trend or event.

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