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7 Brainstorming Techniques to Innovate Your Business

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

Innovate your business with these unique brainstorming techniques.

  • Business growth depends on a company's ability to come up with innovative ideas. These ideas may revolve around product development or improving the efficiency of processes or customer experience.
  • Brainstorming involves coming up with creative ideas. While this could be assigned to one department, organizations should encourage all employees to participate.
  • There are different ways of brainstorming and companies should pick what best suits their needs.

Innovation is essential to creating a memorable business. You want to channel your creativity and passions to achieve a company worth representing. However, originality can be tough to nurture – especially as a leader with numerous responsibilities on your plate. 

"It's nearly impossible to force people to come up with new ideas," said Kyle McMahon, vice president of Lunar. "The key is to find ways to capture great ideas when they organically occur." 

You don't have to innovate alone. Involve your team and find methods that help you brainstorm in unity for the benefit of your business. Here are seven types of brainstorming to innovate your business.

Nontraditional approaches

You don't always have to take the traditional route. Innovation calls for creativity and risk-taking. Sometimes that means implementing a new way of thinking. 

For instance, at Lunar, employees engage in "negative (or reverse) brainstorming," which begins with something you'd like to improve, or an issue that needs solving. Instead of thinking of solutions to that issue, participants discuss possible ways to cause it, reversing the problem statement and dissecting those ideas. 

"This tends to be an easier exercise for participants and can actually lead to some funny, ridiculous characteristics," he said. "Participants then take note of all the 'worst' characteristics given and then write down the opposite of each idea, or the positive side. While reviewing these now-positive characteristics, look for common themes, and evaluate if any of these commonalities provide a real opportunity for solving the initial problem." 

You can also use a provocation technique, said Peter Mulford, executive vice president and chief innovation officer at BTS, which "forcibly dislodges groups of people from their preexisting ideas and patterns of thinking." 

"It's trendy to say things like, 'encourage wild ideas' or 'go for quantity over quality' during brainstorming," he said. "But in the absence of a provocation technique, when the sticky notes fly, what you typically get [are] … the first ideas that come to their mind. To get to the interesting stuff, you have to dig deeper, and provocation techniques are designed to do just that."

Intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurship inspires every individual employee to think like an entrepreneur, encouraging risk-taking and giving power to their ideas. 

"Intrapreneurship, in itself, breeds innovation, because employees who work with the mindset of an entrepreneur will utilize all resources when problem-solving," said McMahon. "When leaders encourage intrapreneurship, they are inviting employees to bring out-of-the-box and industry-disruptive ideas to the table." 

Make sure each worker knows that ingenuity is welcomed and even urged. This will not only spark new ideas for your business from varying perspectives, it also makes your employees feel more confident and passionate about their work.

Rabbit holes

McMahon said to present an issue at the beginning of every brainstorming meeting to prompt creative thinking, ideas and solutions. After that, however, don't worry where the conversation will go. 

"Remember, this is a brainstorming session, so instead of keeping the session on topic, encourage your team to go off track and down different 'rabbit holes' to address high-level problems or questions," said McMahon. "Innovation will occur when you capture and capitalize on large-scale themes." 

However, if you feel that you are too far gone, you can kindly steer the conversation back to where you started: with the problem you are trying to fix. 

"In their attempts to stimulate more innovative thinking, leaders often confuse 'divergent thinking' with 'unfocused thinking” to their detriment," said Mulford. "To get better results, an ideation session should begin with a clear framing (and re-framing) of the job to be done or the need to be fulfilled."

Collaboration

Two (or more) is better than one. Your group should be a team working in unison rather than employees competing. You can set this dynamic by scheduling meetings and outings when there are new hires or special occasions, so everyone can become more familiar. 

"Leaders should first ensure their employees have the opportunity to get to know each other," said McMahon. "When new employees start at Lunar, they have 'meet and greets' with every other team member. It helps them feel acclimated with the team quicker, making them more comfortable and likely to collaborate." 

You can also reach out to people within your company, but outside of your team. Asking for input from those who aren't invested in a project can help shift your perspective to one your workers would never have considered. 

"Perhaps the easiest way a leader can stimulate collaboration and idea flow is to set the bar and simple expectation that … the project team should seek input from a minimum of five people that sit outside their group, business unit and even their geography," said Mulford. "By requiring this sphere of influence, collaboration will come naturally. It doesn't have to be any more complicated than getting five minutes to share an idea and five minutes to receive input." 

Also, make sure your workers feel comfortable voicing their proposals. Criticism is acceptable, but judgments and harsh comments are unnecessary. 

"Leaders can also breed collaboration by establishing an environment that is safe for all ideas," said McMahon. "If people are ridiculed in brainstorming sessions, they will naturally shut down. Brainstorming is about throwing things out there and letting the collective 'mind' wander. Changing the ideation structure can have valuable results."

Mind-mapping

According to Tallyfy, this technique involves laying out the elements of your business that you are familiar with and those that you are not, and then figuring out how to fill in the gaps. This can be achieved by merely writing the details on a white board or using online mapping tools such as Coggle or MindMeister. Identify the core idea, then branch out and spread out to other components of the concept.

The Trigger method

The Trigger method involves carrying out frequent brainstorming sessions and improving on the previous idea of the prior session. Identify numerous ideas and set a time limit for this. Analyze those ideas and have the team vote on the best idea while giving suggestions on the best way to improve it.

Round robin

With this brainstorming strategy, team members build on others' ideas to bring a fresh perspective and improve on it. Members of the team all give suggestions on how best to promote the idea.

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