Brainstorm. At best it can be a creative utopia, where the ideas are flowing and you wind up convinced you have just dreamed up the next “Just Do It.” But at worst, it can feel more like a necessary chore, where you struggle to get excited about any idea, no matter how good its potential.

There have been a lot of theories passed around over the years as to what exactly constitutes a good brainstorm, but which techniques actually work? Here at 97th Floor we love creativity, and after a brainstorm about brainstorming with some of my favorite brainstormers — the 97th Floor writing team — I’ve come up with a list of some of our best tips.

1. Come fully prepared to the brainstorm, and allow others to do the same

By far the biggest differentiator between a productive and an unproductive brainstorm is preparation. If everyone arrives at the brainstorming session with a blank slate, you risk wasting time explaining the situation to them before getting down to the reason why you’re all there. And while it can occasionally be good to get a ton of ideas on the fly, in my experience, a more effective method is to let participants enter ready and prepared.

The best way to do this is to provide them with a creative brief a few days before the brainstorm. In that brief, you should include the following:

  • Basic background information on the product, service, or client that you are creating content to promote.
  • A list of objectives, detailing what you hope to accomplish with this campaign or piece of content.
  • Perhaps a few questions or prompts to get them started.
  • A call to action, inviting them to come to the brainstorm with a couple of ideas.

This is not a lot of work for you, or for the participants, but it makes the process much more efficient and provides a more solid breeding ground for good ideas.

2. More is more

You may have heard the phrase “no bad ideas” applied to brainstorming. And while it has become something of a cliché — one that can invite a slew of terrible jokes and attempts to prove it wrong — it is still one of the best ways to approach a brainstorm. The best ideas often develop out of a million other ideas, both good and, well, less good. I mentioned the importance of preparation, and one thing it is important to emphasize to participants is that their ideas do not have to be fully formed before meeting as a group. Someone may have a really solid half an idea, which can be developed by the group as a whole.

This “more is more” principle also applies to personnel. The more diverse and different voices you can include in your brainstorming session, the better. It’s also worth noting here that some of those voices might be intimated in a large group session. Creating a form or even a basic Google Doc for anonymous idea sharing can be a great way to hear every voice and avoid the dreaded groupthink.

3. Timing is everything

There are tons of different theories as to when the most effective time for a meeting is. Over the years a consensus has formed of the following: avoid first thing in the morning and at the very end of the work day, right before or right after lunch are bad for productivity, and Mondays and Fridays are the least effective scheduling days.

Some of these certainly apply, but a creative brainstorm is a slightly different animal to a typical meeting. Yes, you should avoid the start of the day and the start of the work week, but you might find that a Friday brainstorm (still avoiding the end of the work day) is just the right time to produce some more “out there” ideas. Another good method, if you are able to, is to treat the group to lunch. People tend to relax over a casual meal and may be more open to offering up their ideas. That’s why, even if lunch is not an option, some form of refreshment is always a good idea.

4. Assign a leader

Remember that point about preparation? A creative brief will make sure that everyone comes ready to brainstorm, but you’ll still need a captain to steer the ship. I know I’ve built up the idea of a loose, no-bad-ideas free for all, but your brainstorm will still need structure. When ideas are flying left and right, you need a designated leader to keep everything on the right topic.

5. Follow up

Finally, one of the best things that you can do for future brainstorm success is to keep your participants updated on the results. If they are not directly involved in the rest of the process, make sure that they know what developed out of the collective brainstorm. Seeing the fruits of the process will encourage them to come back to collaborate again and again. And as you do, you’ll no doubt fine tune your own brainstorm best practices in the process.