The pandemic taught us a lot about working virtually. Some things can actually be done better online – like Brainstorming.
The opportunity to be fully anonymous with idea generation and evaluation is one of the things I like best about virtual brainstorming. It also helps to level the playing field between introverts and extroverts, as well as optimists and pessimists.
Following are some ideas from a recent article in Harvard Business Review on how you can make virtual Brainstorming work well:
PreWork: Prior to any in person or online brainstorming session, make sure that everyone is given time to think of ideas that they want to share. Some people call this “brain writing.” It allows introverts, deep thinkers, and pessimists the process time they need.
Step One: Pick a Collaboration Tool. Examples: Google Forms allows for anonymous text-based entries to questions. Mural and Jamboard both offer opportunities for synchronous collaboration. Check these out to see what would work best for you.
Step Two: Generate and Organize Ideas. Ideas can be generated either before or during a synchronous meeting. This HBR article encourages people to focus on “quality” of ideas versus “quantity.” Adam Grant, in his book, Originals – suggests the opposite. I agree with Grant. Self-censoring “quality” can shut people down. Encourage lots of ideas – even contradictory ideas from the same person.
Grant also encourages multiple brainstorming sessions before you start evaluating ideas. I am also a big fan of this approach. Creativity cannot be scheduled.
Step Three: Evaluate. Make sure you have established your specific criteria parameters ahead of time. Even when you do this, evaluation is tricky. By definition, you are trying to figure out the best new creative idea. You will not be “sure” that it will work. You can use “polls” or other tools to identify the top ideas – based on the opinion of the group.
Step Four: Discuss Shortlisted Ideas. It is best if evaluative comments from the group are shared anonymously so things don’t get too personal.
Bonus: Experiment. The HBR article did not include this idea, but I encourage you to borrow from the Lean Startup community and test out a couple of your brainstormed ideas prior to final adoption. There are ways to experiment with small versions of your idea before investing in one of them big time. Check out this blog for more info.
Following these guidelines can help you lead even more effective Brainstorming in the online world. If you end up missing the social aspects of getting together, then schedule an offsite just for that purpose!
*Ideas for this blog taken from: Tsipursky, G. “Why Virtual Brainstorming is Better for Innovation,” Harvard Business Review online, February 3, 2022.