Brainstorming is the not-so-secret weapon that can make a huge difference to any business, allowing you to quickly and efficiently gather ideas at scale. From there, you can ditch the bad ideas and follow up with the good.

The problem is that while brainstorming with peers can be invaluable for any professional, it’s difficult to find the right partner. That’s why, in this article, we’ll mostly focus on founders, marketing and product managers, along with how brainstorming can help you to develop your business.

And so without further ado, let’s go ahead and get started.

Why brainstorming with peers is important in startups

Tom Monaghan, the entrepreneur who founded Domino’s Pizza, once said, “I sometimes compare [brainstorming] to the drilling of oil wells. The only way to strike oil is to drill a lot of wells.”

It reminds me of the phrase “you’ve got to be in it to win it”. Great ideas sometimes happen on their own, but more often than not they’re the result of an extensive and dedicated effort to come up with them.

Another way to think about it is to look at how books are written. Even if a novelist is a “pantser”, meaning that they make it up as they go along instead of working from an outline, they still need to spend time along the way coming up with ideas for what will happen next and how the story will eventually resolve itself.

For example, even the best marketing team can’t map a comprehensive customer journey without detailed goals, personas, and scope definitions. All these elements are determined through extensive brainstorming and planning.

And so whether you’re a marketer, an entrepreneur, a creative or a startup founder, it’s important to take some time to brainstorm ideas. Here are just a few of the main benefits:

  • Generates ideas, which is the main reason why people turn to brainstorming in the first place.
  • Boosts critical thinking by encouraging people to take a creative approach to problem solving.
  • Breaks routine by ensuring that you’re not just doing the same old thing but that instead you’re taking time to look at things from a new perspective.
  • Builds teams by bringing people together with a shared objective, especially when they’re from different departments and they don’t normally get to work together.
  • Provides outside input if you brainstorm with people who don’t normally work for your company.

Who should you brainstorm with?

1.      Colleagues

Your colleagues are the logical place to start, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the best people for you to brainstorm with. There are both positives and negatives. Colleagues know your business better than an outsider does, and they’re also likely to have a good idea of what’s feasible with the resources that you have access to.

On the downside, brainstorming with your colleagues also means that you’ll all approach the problem from the same angle, placing unnecessary limits on what you’re able to come up with. You’ll also need to deal with egos and office politics. If your creative director pitches an idea, for example, then you’ll probably place more value on his ideas than anything that the intern comes up with.

2.      Mentors

Mentors are a great place to turn when you’re looking to brainstorm new ideas because they can bring all of their experience to bear on the session and give you a unique set of insights that you wouldn’t have access to anywhere else.

Mentors are unbiased (or at least, they should be!) and have proven experience in your industry. The biggest downside is that it can be tricky to find a good mentor, but that’s where GrowthMentor comes in, making it easier than ever before to find a mentor who can provide some advice or hop on to a quick brainstorming session. Here’s what just one user is saying.

3.      Peers

When we’re talking about peers, we mean other people who are doing similar things to what you’re doing but at a different company. Of course, you won’t want to run a brainstorming session with a direct competitor, but the chances are that you can quickly think of a half dozen professional contacts who you could run a brainstorming session with no risk of a conflict of interests.

If you’re struggling to find some peers to brainstorm with, GrowthMentor has got you covered there, too. Our new community feature is designed to match people up with other users who are in exactly the same situation as them.

This means that the experience they bring to bear and the ideas that they share will be more relevant and can be just as fruitful as brainstorming with an industry expert. It’s even better if you manage to brainstorm with a peer who’s similar to your ideal buyer persona.

What should a successful brainstorming session look like?

There’s no right and wrong way to approach running a brainstorm, and different people work better with different situations and setups. With that said, we’ve pulled together this before, during and after checklist to help you to give your brainstorms some direction.

Before

1.      Set a goal

This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how often people forget it. If you want your brainstorming session to be a success, you need to make sure that everyone’s on the same page from the outset and that you’re all aware of what the goal is and what you’re working towards.

2.      Get the right team

Another key factor to a successful brainstorm is to make sure that you’ve got the right team together for the brainstorming session. If you’re trying to plan a new product launch, for example, then it makes sense to bring your marketing team onboard. The team that you select will depend upon the goals that you set in the last step.

3.      Choose a good facilitator

Brainstorming sessions have a tendency to go off the rails if you don’t have a designated member of staff whose job it is to make sure that discussions stay on topic and that you’re always working towards the session’s goals.

4.      Select the tools that you’re going to use

We’ll take a closer look at this a little later on in this article, but the idea is that you need to decide what tools you’re going to use to carry out your brainstorm. That way, you can make sure that you’ve acquired the necessary licenses and that you’ve tested out the tools and got to know how they work. This is important even if you’re making use of a well-known and respected CRM for your brainstorming and communication.

During

1.      Set the stage

The location that you choose to have your brainstorm in is one of the most important decisions that you’ll have to make. It can help to go outside or to host the brainstorm somewhere different than the usual meeting rooms so that it takes people out of their comfort zone and encourages them to think creatively.

2.      Set the scene

Once you’ve got everyone in a room together and you’re ready to start your brainstorming session, the first thing to do is to introduce everyone who’s involved in the session and to go back over the session’s goals. This provides a useful reminder to everyone involved as to what it is that you’re hoping to get out of the brainstorm.

3.      Record everything

The more options you have for recording the session, the better. You might think that it’s enough to simply take notes, but it can also be useful to use an audio recorder so that you can refer back to the conversation at a later date. If you’re carrying out the brainstorm through Zoom or some other online platform, it’s likely to be even easier for you to record the session for review after it’s over.

4.      Encourage participation

When you have a lot of strong personalities taking part in a brainstorming session, it can be easy for the extroverts to overshadow the introverts or for more senior members of staff to be given an undue amount of airtime. One of the most important characteristics of a meeting’s facilitator is the ability for them to guide proceedings and to encourage participation from quieter team members.

5.      Stay on topic

Building on from the last point, another responsibility for the facilitator is for them to ensure that the discussion stays on topic and that participants are continuing to come up with ideas that push you and your team towards a resolution for the brainstorming session’s goals. If people start to gossip or to talk about something that’s unrelated to the session’s goals, the moderator needs to bring people back so that they’re talking about the matters in hand.

After

1.      Rank ideas

After the session is over, you should be left with a number of ideas that were generated in the session, along with a rough idea of how each of those ideas could be developed. The next step is to figure out the feasibility of each of these ideas and to rank them in order of how likely they are to help you to reach your goals.

2.      Plan next steps

Once you’ve ranked your ideas, you can start to plan next steps for the ideas that are at the top of the list and to make a roadmap for you to continue working on them. As part of this, you should create a timeline with clear goals and milestones, along with which team member is responsible for each item.

3.      Circulate notes and resources

The next step is for you to share all of the notes from the meeting, as well as any further resources that were mentioned so that people can take a look at them. As part of this stage, you should also share the list of ranked ideas, along with the implementation timelines that you’ve created for the ideas that were the best.

4.      Ask for feedback

With the brainstorming session over and all of the notes and resources shared, the final step is for you to ask attendees for their feedback. If possible, it’s a good idea to allow them to provide their feedback anonymously so that they don’t have to worry about repercussions. You can then take that feedback and act on it, and you can also use it to make your next session even better.

Tools you can use to facilitate brainstorming

The brainstorming tools that you’ll want to use will depend upon what your brainstorming session looks like. If you’re carrying it out remotely then you’ll want a completely different set of tools if you’re carrying out a brainstorm at the office. At its most basic level, you might be able to get away with just a pen and paper.

The main tools for you to consider include:

1. Zoom and Otter.ai

If you use these two tools in combination, it’ll be super easy for you to record and transcribe your sessions. Then you can take what you’ve talked about and to edit it down to just two or three pages of notes and key takeaways. If nothing else, it’s a big timesaver, and at its best, it’s much more efficient than having someone taking notes to circulate them in a Google Doc once the meeting is over.

2. Mindmeister/Miro

Mindmeister and Miro are both mind-mapping tools, and you can also use any other alternative that does the same job. Mind-mapping tools are great for people who are visual learners because they allow them to make visual models of what’s been talked about as the discussion progresses. Even better, most of these tools allow multiple people to contribute so that everyone can collaborate and edit the mind-map in real time.

3. Digital whiteboards

For in-person brainstorming sessions, digital whiteboards can be a useful tool for taking notes as you go and for scanning them in so that they can be distributed via email after the brainstorming session is over. The downside of these tools is that they can be pretty expensive, and so it’s only worth investing in one if you’re carrying out regular brainstorms in the office.

4. Paper and pen

There’s nothing wrong with going old school, and you don’t need fancy equipment to carry out a brainstorming session. One of the interesting things about taking notes with a pen and paper is that multiple studies have shown that it can help people to remember things. It’s also the quickest and easiest approach, especially for off-the-cuff brainstorming sessions that occur on the spur of the moment.

How to make brainstorming a part of your creative process

As a founder, the easiest way to make brainstorming a part of your creative process is to empower employees to organize and participate in brainstorms at any time. It goes without saying that if you’re forcing your employees to log every second they spend on every task and if they don’t feel able to step away from the grind, they’re not going to be able to come together for brainstorming sessions.

It can help if you specifically book some time out in people’s planners so that the brainstorm is scheduled in as a part of the work day. For bonus points, consider ordering some takeout food or taking the brainstorm outside (if the weather’s nice) or to a quiet bar where you can foster a more relaxed atmosphere.

Still struggling to take advantage of brainstorming? Perhaps you need some help! The good news is that GrowthMentor is designed to allow people to quickly and easily set up brainstorms with vetted mentors, as well as peers at a similar experience level via the community feature. Sign up today to get started!