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Professional women in a conference room brainstorming session

We’ve all felt that little butterfly in our stomach when we’re starting a new project. It’s the combination of eagerness and excitement but also the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing where to start. An effective brainstorming session is the ultimate cure, helping you gather ideas and create a plan for moving forward.

Of course, some brainstorming sessions knock it out of the park while others leave you more confused than you were when you started. What makes brainstorming successful? Above all others, which factor is important in brainstorming?

The truth is that there are several factors that turn any brainstorming session into a breakthrough. Let’s look at what your brainstorming needs.

1. Equal Collaboration

In freelancing, it’s not uncommon to have a project that requires you to collaborate with other professionals. For instance, let’s say your client wants a marketing plan. They might bring in content strategists, social media marketers, email marketing specialists, and so on.

When you’re brainstorming in a group discussion, each person must participate. You want the collaboration to be as equal as possible so everyone is encouraged to share their point of view and build on each other’s ideas.

2. Visual Organization

Have you ever had a spark of a genius idea but you didn’t write it down and when it was time to put your idea into action, you’d forgotten it? It’s the worst.

As you’re brainstorming, you need an easy way to not only write down the ideas generated but to keep them organized too. That could be columns listing ideas or parts of the project, it could be a mind map, or any number of other options. The key is to end up with something that’s easy to revisit, not an undecipherable mess of words and thoughts.

3. Action Items

On the surface, the purpose of a brainstorm is to generate the largest number of ideas you can so you can incorporate them into your project. At the same time, an idea that sits idle and untouched doesn’t amount to anything.

Your brainstorming session should end with practical action items you can add to your to-do list. You need a clear picture of the next steps ahead and how you’re going to move forward.

You don’t have to pull together all your ideas and create a comprehensive project plan all in one go – that’s a mental overload for any of us. Still, end each brainstorming session knowing when you’ll come back to take another look or create a practical, actionable plan.

4. Multiple Passes

Sometimes we think we had a stroke of genius and then when we look back on our idea, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. After your initial brainstorming session, don’t just leap forward. Sleep on it.

Come back to your organized layout of ideas the next day with fresh eyes. See if it sparks anything new or opens your eyes to something you missed the first time. This is also a great opportunity to measure the pros and cons of your ideas in a practical way, rather than trying to do that when the ideas are brand new because your enthusiasm for them could cloud your judgment.

5. A Naysayer

Speaking of weighing pros and cons, every brainstorming session needs a critic. You can be your own critic or, if you’re in a group session, one member of the group could be appointed as “devil’s advocate.”

As the naysayer, look to disadvantages and hurdles for each idea on the board. Think about how they could fall short and how you could avert those challenges. In the marketing plan example, for instance, think about how an imaginary advertising executive “Alex” could misinterpret your message or how soccer mom “Sally” may see it differently.

Making the Most of Your Brainstorming Session

Brainstorming is an excellent problem solving strategy and a way to kick off any project in your freelancing work. The factors above can transform your brainstorming from a single idea-generating session into a pathway to a knockout project.

When it comes down to it, which factor is important while brainstorming? There isn’t a singular standout. The key is to incorporate all the factors and strategies above to make your brainstorming practical and effective every time.


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