Brainstorm Your Way to Innovation and Success

Brainstorming is one of the best ways to get everyone’s ideas out on the table.

Coupled with creativity, it’s a vital component of innovation.

But have you ever had a brainstorming session in which you felt like a lot of “words” were being thrown out but not much was useful?

Use this guide to solicit ALL of your people’s input  –  and get the most out of your brainstorming sessions.

Then, read an example of how a global medical device company used improvisational thinking to find success.

The objections

There are two main reasons that people stay quiet when they could be sharing ideas.

  • Fear of failure or judgement. It can be embarrassing to throw out an idea that you don’t know has legs. You don’t want to be ridiculed or looked at as if you’re out of touch. As the team leader, you have to make sure that you’re facilitating a judgement-free zone where people feel free to share.
  • Looking out for #1. The second main reason that people hesitate to share their ideas is because they don’t want anyone else to get recognition for something they did. They feel like they need to hold onto their ideas in order to eventually further their own career.

For your efforts to yield real solutions, you have to consider these three critical elements of the process.

1. Ban the devil’s advocate.

Criticism is the ultimate idea-killer.

No one wants to share what they’re thinking when they’re afraid their ideas will be shot down immediately.

Be aware of your body language, as well. Criticism can be felt and observed – even when it isn’t verbalized. Rolling of eyes and sneering can be every bit as stifling to creativity as critical words.

As the leader of the team, it’s your responsibility to make the brainstorming room a safe, creative and open environment where everyone feels free to share whatever pops into their heads.



Good brainstorming is a critical tool for every project and team manager. #improvtips


2. Go for the ridiculous.

If you want to immediately widen the field of possibilities, you have to take a chance on the silly, crazy and risky ideas.

The ability to embrace the ridiculous goes along with the ability to ban the devil’s advocate. No one will want to share their most outlandish ideas if they know they’ll be criticized.

Even though the most out-there ideas may not be usable solutions, they expand the choices.

Having a wide range of ideas, from mundane to the unbelievable, can open your eyes to the most interesting prospects.

Take a look at these examples of seemingly “ridiculous” ideas that ended up being smashing success stories.

  • Pet Rock. Gary Dahl was able to make $15 million during the first six months that his new “pets” were on the market.
  • Snuggie. Just think, someone in a brainstorming room somewhere, voiced the idea to sell what is the basic equivalent of putting a bathrobe on backward. This “silly” idea has earned $200 million so far.
  • Yellow Smiley face. You see them everywhere, but you’ve probably never thought about where it came from. The man who came up with didn’t think it was worth patenting and ended up losing out on about $500 million in profits to a pair of brothers who rolled the dice on something that appeared to be “ridiculous.”

3. Embrace the lull.

Silence in the midst of a brainstorming session can seem uncomfortable.

Everyone looks at the other people in the room as if to silently say, “Please, just say something! Anything!”

It’s the lull and most people are afraid of it, but having the courage to hang on through the lull is critical.

It can be a moment of relaxation in which you can access different areas of your brain and that perfect idea may just pop right up.

Sometimes, it’s just believing that there’s more and not giving up.

The next time you’re in the midst of a brainstorming session and the room falls silent, be patient, let it ride. The best ideas may come from the lull.

Let’s take a look at how these concepts play out in a real-life example.

Collaboration in action: A case study

Ben was a senior scientist and the vice president of a global medical device company.

He had been working on a project that had the potential to change the way medical tests are conducted in automated clinical labs.

His goal was to create a machine that could return test results more quickly and in a higher number.

The company gave Ben’s project the greenlight and it was time to get down to brass tacks.

The challenge

Ben recognized that there were a lot of people working on the project and – even with a great budget – there was some question as to whether they could finish in time.

The deadline was a big issue, as well. The company wanted the project to be completed in half the time they usually allowed.

Ben had a choice to make.

He could dive on in and figure things out as he went along, or he could take a step back and assess what needed to be in place before the work could begin.

Ben identified two major issues that change of this magnitude presented to his team – both communication issues.

  • Speaking up. Ben observed that team members were hesitant to share their opinions when higher-ranking people in the organization were present. Leaders were missing out on valuable input because no one wanted to speak up.
  • Clarifying. He also noticed that people were more likely to go off and do research on their own when they didn’t understand something, as opposed to just asking. This led to confusion and wasted time.

Ben knew his team’s method of collaboration and communication skills needed to change if the project had any chance of success.

The collaborative process

To prepare the team for the intense experience the project would surely be, Ben called in ImprovEdge.

As the team worked through a series of workshops, webinars, coaching sessions and internal cohort work that revolved around improvisational behaviors, things started to change.

They learned how to use “Yes, and” statements to gain clarity in their tasks.

Using reflections, open-ended questions, ideation and games helped Ben and the team understand a better way to communicate.

The results

Several of the team members who went through the improv training were eager to share what they learned.

  • A woman for whom English is a second language used the reflecting technique to realize that she had been misunderstanding a large portion of what she had been hearing simply because she wasn’t asking questions to gain clarity.
  • An engineer was able to use the principles of “Yes, and” to help a vendor understand where he was confused about a process. As a result, the vendor explained the information in a different way that the engineer could comprehend.

You’re probably wondering if the project was completed on time or not, right?

Ben was wise enough to recognize that they needed to do a lot of prep work on the front-end, including brainstorming ways to get the team to share ideas.

He established an environment of improvisational thinking and the project was completed on time.

The first versions of these innovative machines have been built and are in use!

The best brainstorming

The most effective brainstorming happens when you say no to criticism and foster an environment of acceptance of every idea, you’re open to even the most ridiculous ideas and you aren’t afraid to embrace the lull.

If Ben hadn’t been open to the ideas and questions of his team, the innovative product he wanted to create would have never happened.

Following these guidelines will ensure that you come up with creative and innovative solutions every time.

Have you experienced a brainstorming session that went horribly wrong?

Good brainstorming is a critical tool for every project and team manager. #improvtips

Takeaway: Be intentional about your next brainstorming session, making sure that all ideas are welcomed.

This article is 100% written by a human named Karen Hough. She is the Founder & CEO of ImprovEdge, in the top 4% of women-owned businesses in the US, a 3-time Amazon bestselling author, Yale grad, wife and mom of three.