Kevin Eikenberry

Article Summary:

Brainstorming strategies for spurring better solutions from your sessions.

Brainstorming Strategies: Seven Questions That Spur Better Solutions

I’m betting you’ve had the same experience I have in most organizational brainstorming sessions.

You are in a room with beige (or otherwise boring) walls and a conference table. Sometime during the meeting, there is a problem or challenge identified. Someone standing near a flipchart or whiteboard picks up a pen and the brainstorming begins. After a momentary silence, a few ideas are suggested – at first they come almost faster than the person can write them down. Then after a short pause a couple of more ideas are added. Then comes a longer pause.

This pause seems like forever (though it has probably been 15 seconds at the most), and the group decides the brainstorming is over – and the problem will be solved using one of the 5-10 items on the list.

There are likely good ideas on the list. But the brainstorming began with the intent of coming up with as many ideas as possible – alternate ways to solve the problem or overcome the obstacle. Heck, someone may have even said, “We need to find a solution that is out-of-the-box.”

My guess is that there are no out-of-the-box ideas in those 5-10 on your typical list. And I know that smart people can always come up with more than this small number of possibilities.

The dynamics of brainstorming and causes of the challenges I am outlining are more complex that this article can address. So I will simply stick with what to do after the long pause . . . what to do to spur more ideas than those initially placed on the flipchart. In practical terms, the way to do that is with questions.

Seven Spurring Questions

  1. How would X do it (or solve this problem)? In the place of “X” you can place another department, another company, your Mother, a 10 year old, Benjamin Franklin, a character from a book or movie, anybody.

  2. What would we do if the problem were twice as big (or half as big)? Looking at extremes is another way to spur new ideas.

  3. How would we solve the opposite problem? By reversing the problem and making that list, we are often able then to turn those answers back around into new alternatives.

  4. What does this problem remind us of? If we can find other situations in our experience to connect to this situation, new ideas will come out.

  5. How is this problem like X? In this case the “X” is any word or phrase. By forcing the connections to the random word, new ideas will burst forth. To get your word you can open a dictionary to a random page and find a random word or you can use a random word list that you have previously prepared.

  6. How can we do A and B? Perhaps the best alternative isn’t with one idea, but a by doing more than one thing.

  7. How can we combine some of the ideas we have to find new and different ideas?

Of course there are more than seven questions and there are many fine books that talk about creativity enhancement. You can learn more techniques and approaches, but if you start with these seven questions, you’ll be amazed at how many more (and useful) ideas you will find, that otherwise would have never overcome “the pause.”

These questions can be asked by the meeting facilitator or leader, or by anyone in the group. They can also be asked internally, to help you personally spur new thoughts.

However you use them, these questions will work. Each of them creates a new perspective and generates new connections in our minds. It is with these new perspectives and connections that more, and potentially better, ideas will be generated.

Kevin Eikenberry is an expert in converting organizational, team and individual potential into desired results, and the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group. He is the two-time best selling author of “Vantagepoints On Learning And Life” and “Remarkable Leadership: Unleashing Your Leadership Potential One Skill at a Time.” Kevin has spent the last 15 years helping organizations all across North America reach their potential. His specialties include: teams and teamwork, creativity, developing organizational and individual potential, facilitation, training trainers, presentation skills, consulting and the consulting process and more. He offers monthly tele-seminars through a program called the Remarkable Leadership Learning System. Kevin can be reached at (317) 387-1424 or 888.LEARNER and through his website,

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