5 Keys to Brainstorming: The First Step in Long-Term Strategy

It is time to start planning new long-term strategic goals and ideas in a post-COVID era. Staying in a reactionary mode does not allow your organization to take advantage of the opportunities that exist. It’s an easy enough statement, but where do you start? A brainstorming session could be your answer. You can read about five benefits of brainstorming here. Below are five key elements to a successful brainstorming session for long-term strategy.

1) Bring an Open Mind

The first step in the brainstorming process starts the moment you enter the room (physically or virtually). Brainstorming is an idea generation activity. While you have ideas you want to share, others in the group will have ideas of their own that will likely counteract some of yours. Be willing to hear ideas without shutting them down. Brainstorming is meant to be an open, judgement-free meeting where ideas are floated – good or bad – with the intent of stimulating additional ideas. Also remember, you can’t find a good answer if you don’t ask the right questions. Before leaping into the “how”, brainstorming is about asking as many questions as the group can imagine, without worrying about the answers. Being open to new questions will lead to better ideas and solutions. Brainstorming should be fun, so check your biases at the door, let your guard down, and allow the creativity to flow.

2) Data. Data. Data.

A large part of knowing where your association is going is knowing where it has been. While brainstorming is perfect for throwing out ideas for the future, it is helpful if at least some of them are based in reality. That’s where data comes in. What initiatives yielded positive results last year? What marketing campaigns returned a major ROI? What efforts in the last five years have continued to grow the association and what ideas can help build on those? What percentage of the membership values various programs or services? What is your membership engagement score? What do we start, stop or keep doing? A word of caution about data, however: While it can be a great barometer for brainstorming, don’t let it become a barrier to brainstorming!

3) Fresh Eyes

The beauty of a brainstorming session is it often breaks a team out of regular thinking habits. A great way to ensure this happens is to bring in an outside person that would not normally be involved with constructing the next strategic plan. New employees or interns can be perfect for this role. They can offer fresh perspective that people too close to the organization can often miss. A team that always works together can begin to think in the same ways. Fresh eyes break the mold and give a fresh perspective. It can also be helpful to survey participants in advance or break the participants up into smaller groups to encourage full participation. Ensuring that all voices are heard, not just the loudest ones, is key.

4) Note Taking

This key is crucial. Brainstorming is all about free-flowing ideas. Someone needs to be designated as the note-taker prior to the beginning of the meeting to ensure each idea is captured and preserved. Idea building happens easier when there is a list of thoughts that can be referenced. Utilizing a board that is visible to all attendees fosters idea generation from existing ideas. There are various ways to do this in-person or virtually.

5) Follow-up

The final key to brainstorming as the first step to developing a long-term strategy is following up. Schedule a follow-up meeting for this session immediately. Have a plan to not only come up with ideas for long-term strategy but to develop actionable activities and a timeline to implement them. This only happens in subsequent meetings. A brainstorm is for ideas. A follow-up is where a plan starts to come together.

As you begin to look ahead, try implementing these keys into your next brainstorming session. It’s easy to do things the same way they have always been done, but doing things merely out of history and habit is rarely the best long-term strategic decision. Brainstorm sessions present new ideas and initiatives that can break away from old habits and fuel growth.

Are you ready to put your plan together? Learn about characteristics of a successful long-term plan