How to Lead an Effective Brainstorm Session

Not just anyone can conduct a brainstorming session. A good brainstorming facilitator must be able to help identify the task at the outset, define the project’s parameters and draw on the participants’ experience to ensure the success of the brainstorming session. A facilitator adds a crucial dimension to the brainstorming process. According to Jim Ferry of Boston Innovation Group in Westion, MA, an unfacilitated, internal brainstorming session typically generates 10-15 ideas, while a brainstorming session run by a facilitator might generate as many as 200 ideas.

Brody Hartman of Hartman Communications in San Francisco adds that an outside facilitator should bring several skills to the group:

Objectivity. A facilitator should be objective but not too far removed from the creative process.

The ability to listen and communicate. A facilitator has to assess the energy level of the group, monitor it constantly and adjust it when necessary.

A nurturing character. A good facilitator draws people out of their shells and ignites their creativity. "The creative process is a deeply complex experience that’s rooted in our need to survive, thrive and evolve in our culture," Hartman says. Drawing on his own background as a designer, Hartman dips into the creative process to help guide discussion and, if required, nudge the group in another direction.

A sense of exploration. A good facilitator has to be willing to wade through the muck and mush of the early stages of brainstorming, when good ideas are sometimes still buried. Eventually, the gems will surface, but they’re bound to need a solid buffing before they truly shine.

HOW June 1999