The complete guide to online brainstorming and ideation

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Online brainstorming helps you bring out the best ideas from your team, so you can make better decisions together. But organising it can be difficult. How do you make sure everyone’s heard? And how do you avoid a logistical nightmare?

This guide gives you everything you need to plan and facilitate great online brainstorming sessions - and have some fun on the way!

A group preparing for some online brainstorming

   

Online and hybrid brainstorming

  1. Define the problem
  2. Select participants
  3. Decide on tools
  4. Choose brainstorming techniques
  5. Prepare the participants
  6. Make sure everyone is heard
  7. Quantity over quality
  8. Withhold criticism and welcome wild ideas
  9. What is online brainstorming?
  10. What is hybrid brainstorming?

   

   

How to prepare the online brainstorming session

   

1. Define the problem

Have you ever been to a brainstorming that fired in all kinds of random directions? You want creative energy, but you also want the energy to be directed towards the problem you need to solve. The trick is to define the problem so that it’s not too open, because the brainstorming might derail, but at the same time not too narrow, as it can limit the creative space too much.

Here are a few examples of good brainstorming questions.

  • “How might we improve our products’ retention”
  • “How might we double our sales in 3 months?”
  • “What are some ideas for new marketing campaigns?”

Stick to one problem or question for the brainstorming session. Including multiple problems quickly becomes inefficient and hard to manage.

Brainstorming about company culture in Curipod

   

2. Select participants

How many participants should you invite? And who should you invite? You would like to include important stakeholders for your project to get buy in, and ideally you should have a mix of novices and experts. Between 5 and 12 participants is a good place to start, which should be enough to generate lots of ideas, but not so many that it is hard to manage. Of course you can easily do online brainstorming with less or more people.

   

3. Decide on tools

The right tools make online brainstorming vibrant and productive, while the wrong tools turn it into a logistical nightmare. First you would like a video conferencing tool such as Teams, Zoom or Google meet. Pick whatever you are most comfortable with, and you think the participants are most used to.

Second, you want a workshop tool for brainstorming that fits these three requirements:

  • First, it must be easy to manage for you during the brainstorming.
  • Second, it should be really quick and easy for the participants to understand how the tool works - you don’t want to spend 30 minutes onboarding the participants.
  • Third, the tool needs to take in the participants responses as text, sketches and images, and allow for voting. Curipod really checks all three boxes as a great workshop tool.

   

4. Choose brainstorming techniques

There are lots of great brainstorming techniques to choose from depending on your context such as Crazy 8’s, where everyone gets 8 minutes to draw 8 crazy ideas, SWOT analysis where you analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, Brainwriting, where you build on top of the other participants ideas, Pre-mortem, where you try to look into the future an see possible risks for your project or Jobs to be done, PEST and others.

You should also consider including a warm-up activity or icebreaker as part of the brainstorming session. Here is a list of 17 icebreakers you can use.

Results from a crazy eights activity in Curipod

Results from a Crazy 8’s, brainstorming session in Curipod

   

5. Prepare the participants

Before the brainstorming session, make sure to send out an agenda well ahead of time. Use the opportunity to also inform about the goal of the brainstorming session, and what equipment they will need. i.e. a computer, notepad etc. If you choose to use a tool for brainstorming such as Curipod, you don’t really need participants to prepare.

   

How to facilitate great brainstorming sessions

   

6. Make sure everyone is heard

Your goal is to surface the best ideas, and that means hearing everyone’s ideas.

We recommend letting everyone think and write down ideas individually before discussing the ideas as a group. This lets everyone participate — not just whoever is loudest.

   

7. Quantity over quality

It can feel scary to share nascent ideas. After all, what if the ideas are bad?

But, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas,” said Nobel Prize-winning Linus Pauling. You want to produce lots of divergent ideas, because that increases the change of hitting a radical and innovative idea that solves the problem.

Emphasize to your participants that quantity of ideas is the goal, rather than quality.

   

8. Withhold criticism and welcome wild ideas

Tell the participants that criticism should be saved for later. By removing the fear of being criticized by the other participants, the barrier of coming up with wild and crazy ideas decreases. Help participants feel free to add to ideas of the others. Start the sentence with “Yes, and…” This process of association can really boost the idea generation!

   

Online brainstorming FAQ

   

What is online brainstorming?

Online brainstorming is a group creativity technique where participants come up with as many ideas as they can to solve a specific problem in a fully remote/virtual context such as through a videoconferencing software like Zoom or Google Meet. What is unique about brainstorming is the focus on removing inhibitions and focusing on a free flow of ideas, which could be more or less realistic.

   

What is hybrid brainstorming?

Hybrid brainstorming is similar to online brainstorming expect for the fact that some of the participants are joining through video conferencing such as Zoom, while other participants are physically on-site. The mix of online and on-site participants pose an extra challenge for the organiser who has to make sure that everyone feels equally engaged and included.