Running a successful brainstorming session takes a lot of skill and practice. The key is to set the ground rules at the beginning and to reinforce them.
One of the most important rules is to expand upon the ideas of others. With this approach, at the end of a good brainstorming session, multiple people feel that they created or contributed to the best ideas to come out of the session. And, since everyone in the room had a chance to participate and witnessed the emergence and evolution of all the ideas, there is usually shared support for the ideas that go forward toward implementation. If you have participated in brainstorming sessions, you know that they don’t always work like that. It is hard to eliminate the natural tendency for each person to feel personal ownership for their ideas, and it can be tough to get participants to build on others’ suggestions.
Patricia Ryan Madson, who wrote Improv Wisdom, designed a great warm-up exercise that brings to life these two ideas: there are no bad ideas and build on others’ ideas. You break a group into pairs. One person tries to plan a party and makes suggestions to the other person. The other person has to say "No" to every idea and must give a reason why it won’t work. For example, the first person might say, “Let’s plan a party for Saturday night,” and the second person would say, “No, I have to wash my hair.” This goes on for a few minutes, as the first person continues to get more and more frustrated trying to come up with any idea the second person will accept. Once this runs its course, the roles switch and the second person takes on the job of planning a party. The first person has to say yes to everything and must build on the idea. For example, “Let’s have a party on Saturday night.” The response might be, “Yes, and I’ll bring a cake.” This goes on for a while and the ideas can get wilder. In some cases the parties end up under water or on another planet, and involve all sorts of exotic food and entertainment. The energy in the room increases, spirits are high, and a huge number of ideas are generated.