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Effective Brainstorming Guidelines

The following is adapted from Randah Taher's "10 Guidelines for Effective Brainstorming"

Brainstorming is a powerful tool, if used correctly, can enhance any decision. But just like any power tool, you must follow the instructions on how to put it together and use it, else you risk doing a bad job, or worse, harming your organization.

1. Come prepared and invite others to do so. If you notify all the participants two days in advance of the purpose of your session, and ask them to come ready with one or two ideas, you will have a head-start. People won't take those precious first awkward moments to set their inner moods.

2. Invite others to the party. Yes members have the most direct interest, but consider also inviting people from outside the club, for example, similar organizations such as yours that encounter the same challenges; you might be surprised at what they can bring to the table. Maybe your colleague has access to technology that will expedite projects, or a partner organization has the contacts you need to boost greater exposure in the wider community, etc. Throw in some munchies and drinks to feed the tummies as you drain the brains.

3. Think and re-think the real issue. Tackle the problem, not the symptoms. Re-writing that question or issue will open new lines of thoughts and increase the quality of the ideas. For example, if the session's title is: "How can we involve board members in fundraising", a new personal statement – such as "How can we make the board member be involved in a particular program" – will add new dimensions to your ideas. Play with the statement for a while before settling on just one to start the session.

4. Record as you go. Don't lose the good thoughts. Assign a note taker to write everything in front of everyone. This will give you the extra benefit of enhancing each others' ideas. Don't forget to give that person a chance to contribute as well.

5. Defer judgment. Imagine a pearl diver, plunging in the middle of the sea to collect one oyster, swim back to surface, straight to shore and open his find, only to find nothing. Then he will put on his suit again, paddle back for a second one. That is exactly what you do when you stop at each idea to evaluate it. A brainstorming is just this: storming! In a real climate storm, you don't stop running to asses the damage. You keep running until you reach a safety, a dead-end or your time runs up. But unlike a real weather condition, you have options in this room-temperature setting: you can re-state the problem to open a new stream of thoughts, or schedule another session to follow up. Jot down everything! and then search for your treasure among those ideas.

6. Become a generation machine. Never, never, stop when you feel you have reached a suitable or good solution. You risk loosing a better one that might come in the next 4 minutes. keep moving, with new fresh ideas or enhancing previous ones when you run out of juice (or coffee). Radical and crazy ideas must not be confined in your brain cells. Get them all out on the table—and blackboard—as well.

7. Force large quotas. Don't stop because time ran out. Type the written ideas and send them to the same team and include others who didn't attend the session. Ask each to add 2 more ideas to reach the large quota before moving to the next step of evaluating them.

8. Elaborate and improve. Connect two or more ideas to create a combined one, modify a plan by looking at it from different angles, the workers', the participants', the sponsors', the board members', the funders', and other organizations' point of view.

9. Enhance visuals. On your flip chart you write the words that describe the proposed solution, but that is not your only option. Use sketches (my favorite is the stick man), drawings, color coding, arrows, triangles, stars and crooked lines to connect the thoughts. you will appreciate the master piece once you're done and might consider framing it.

10. Threaten yourself. Why not make everybody sit upright and tensed by suggesting what all could go wrong. Here you list all the mishaps you can do (have fun imagining) in order to think of new venues, then implement the opposite ideas. You will get much real—straight from the heart—ideas using this tool.

SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis is an extremely useful tool for understanding and decision-making for all sorts of situations in business and organizations. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. The SWOT analysis headings provide a good framework for reviewing strategy, position and direction of a company or business proposition, or any other idea. Completing a SWOT analysis is very simple, and is a good subject for workshop sessions and brainstorming meetings. Read more about Swot Analysis.

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