Step away from the whiteboard. Put down the dry erase marker for a minute. There’s a better way you can be brainstorming with your school’s leadership team, your marketing staff, etc. this summer.

Before your order coffee and pastries for your staff’s marathon brainstorming session to generate the Next Big Idea for marketing your institution, take some time to plan the best, most effective ways to tap into your staff’s creativity, good ideas and collective brain power. To help, we’ve curated some of the best thinking on the Web about brainstorming.

Go with the group or go solo?

Bloomberg’s 8 tips for better brainstorming recommends a blend of individual and group thinking to get to the best ideas. Sometimes the group session is not your best option. “The power of group brainstorming comes from creating a safe place where people with different ideas can share, blend, and extend their diverse knowledge. If your goal is to just ‘collect the creative ideas that are out there,’” group brainstorms are a waste of time.

A key take-away: “Do individual brainstorming before and after group sessions.” Tell your staff what the topics are beforehand. Encourage them to spend some time thinking up ideas/strategies before the scheduled group session. Shortly afterwards, transcribe the whiteboard notes and circulate to your staff for more ideas. Use a web-based program to collect and share ideas.

If you’re brainstorming in a group, do your facilitator homework.

Creativity and leadership expert and author Scott Berkun gives great advice in “How to run a brainstorming meeting.” How successful the session is depends upon your success as a facilitator. Avoid the pitfalls, create the right environment and have a plan before and after brainstorming.

Your faculty clearly states classroom rules each fall. Follow this lead and make sure every participant knows the brainstorming rules of engagement.

  • No criticism. At all.
  • Be wild, bold and brave with ideas.
  • More is more. When it comes to generating ideas, quantity counts.
  • One voice/idea at a time. Interruptions interrupt creative flow and stifle confidence and collaboration. Give each participant paper and pencils to write down their ideas that pop up while others are talking. Clearly state how people will introduce ideas: hands raised?
  • Reward team play early and often during brainstorming sessions and use humor. The more playful and comforting the environment is, the better the ideas. Food counts (but you knew that) and so does the location. Try to use a location on campus that isn’t where you have regular staff meetings.

How do you generate ideas without a group free-for-all?

FastCompany, a great source for the newest ideas and practices to bring out the best thinking for companies and nonprofits, heralds the benefits of the quieter process of brainwriting. Coined by a UT Arlington professor Paul Paulus and used by Kellogg School of Business management professor Leigh Thompson, brainwriting separates the idea generation process from the group dialogue that happens in traditional brainstorming sessions. Thompson’s advice? “Write first, talk second.”

Follow writer Julie Neidlinger’s “4 Simple Brainstorming Techniques That Will Help You Write Killer Content” for moving through writer’s block (it’s that same thing that happens to marketing professionals, we promise). She has great infographics and techniques to help you get your group’s creative juices flowing.

Start your group session with one of her exercises or ask them to quietly write 10-15 ideas on a specific topic or challenge. The key is to have them work silently for 20 minutes, not sharing ideas and armed with pencil and paper. Yes, old school tools can help jog creativity. Thompson has participants then write their best ideas onto post-it-notes and place them, without names, on a wall. The group reads them and ranks their favorites. Any subsequent group discussion focuses on the top rankings.

Set aside time each week to brainstorm/brainthink solo or in small groups.

This summer, make it priority to spend 30 minutes each week brainwriting ideas. With the campus quieter, talk a walk and think about a topic. Better, yet, bring a colleague or two and chat about a topic. Getting out of your office will clear your head and spark ideas. Set up small groups of your best thinkers to work on a few ideas creating during a larger brainstorming session and hold this group accountable. And spring for lunch for them to brainstorm. Food is a wonderful motivator.

Good luck! Let us know what ideas work or don’t work for you.

We have great ideas about marketing and have great experience implementing ideas. Give us a call if we can help you.

Jonathan Oleisky is president of Kalix Marketing.