Smarter Marketing Blog

What If … Your Business Did Brainstorming for Innovation?


This topic is an unusual one for us. It was sparked by my attending a conference recently in Dublin, called ARVR Innovate. I was intrigued listening to experts talking about how augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will affect businesses in the future. At one stage during the day, I began to reflect on business innovation in general, especially in small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

My first thought was that, nowadays, we should all expect that innovation is coming to our industries. Once we accept that reality, the real challenge then becomes how to effect change in our business through this innovation. Thinking along practical lines, we would suggest that brainstorming with colleagues / external experts is a great exercise to approach change together.

I thought it would be worthwhile discussing, in this post, our own brainstorming experience that we’ve learnt from various customer projects.

Meanwhile, back at the conference, I briefly strayed into thinking about business models (during a break of course). And thought, “are the majority of business models today still fit for purpose?” For decades, I suppose, brands have had the same business model and have just tried to implement it better than competitors. No innovation required.

However, look what Uber, Airbnb, Coursera et al are doing to those business models – they’re ignoring them. AR and VR are probably going to produce even more opportunities for disruption. Can existing businesses not be innovative before falling prey to the ‘outsiders’?

“Yes, they can.”

In fact, they must because a business should always be looking ahead at what their customer will want in the future. If they aren’t – a more competitive business or non-industry player will do so and overtake them. The answer for businesses is not to set-up an innovation department; it is to ensure that innovation is part and parcel of everything a business does from top to bottom.

Business owners must reflect on what will drive profitability in the future and then decide how to implement change, with the help / buy-in from the team.

idea champions logo

With a hat-tip to the U.S. company ideachampions and their great article here,– to ensure a business keeps ahead of innovation an owner and his team need to start thinking outside-the-box. If one dares to do something different, the by-product should be increased energy anyway, so there would be a win-win situation.

Let’s say that a business owner realises there is a lack of internal innovation and therefore a threat from outside the industry. The first thing that they have to think about is that maybe the lack of innovation is a by-product of a fear of the unknown. Accordingly, it might not necessarily have anything to do with their actual business operation at all. If this is their only vulnerability going forward, discussing this internally or availing of external help will definitely improve this situation.

Alternatively, that vulnerability in a start-up situation might be – being afraid to fail. Brainstorming with colleagues / partners etc. will help the acceptance that failing fast brings experience that will actually build confidence and grow business authority in the long run.

The old adage of following your gut is also a very useful attitude when brainstorming innovation for your business. The next new idea probably already exists and all it needs is for you to listen to yourself (your gut) and give it structure (think like a child does i.e. with a curious and enthusiastic attitude).

Facilitating a brainstorming session

We have already alluded to situations when you might brainstorm. Of course, one doesn’t have to wait for a threat to your business to commence innovation. Other compelling reasons could be to generate new ideas or fresh approaches for your business with colleagues. It might serve to kick-start an innovative mindset in your organisation and set up a supply of new possibilities for growth. One that we really like is that it would allow for colleagues to challenge the status quo and potentially solve tough challenges (conquer fears).

Thinking outside the box might even awaken untapped genius on the team to suggest how to delight your customers in a novel way.

If you are to facilitate a brainstorming session, we’ve found that doing research beforehand is certainly a need-to-do. The more you understand what the issue is, that the participants will be trying to solve, the better the objectives that you can formulate. Based on our experience to date, during the session itself, we would suggest that you consider the following:

  • Lock the doors so that there are no distractions or interruptions.
  • Encourage interaction rather than leading the conversation yourself.
  • Keep the participants inspired by not allowing one person take over.
  • Foster even the smallest idea / thought from the floor and make all participants feel valued.
  • Keep an idea / thought going until you reach an aha moment – we love using the what if question
  • Encourage imaginations to fly and be prepared to shut down same when necessary

Some good, customer focused, discussions to be considered in a brainstorming session would be – how to get a better audience (more receptive to brand messages); discuss what the customer / donor really wants (wants are constantly shifting) and even, what do the customers fear (fear drives human behaviour)?


In a previous life, I distinctly remember being part of a brainstorming session facilitated by International business consultant, Valerie Pierce (her recent book is FOCUS, The Art of Clear Thinking). We were off-site in a hotel room and Valerie’s approach was unique, professional, fun and produced focused results for us as a team.

Afterwards, Valerie gave me some pointers with regard to brainstorming sessions. She highlighted that:

  • It is imperative that no ideas are censored during the session to ensure a total team effort.
  • From the outset, the session must be taken seriously and objectives agreed up front.
  • An element of fun has to be injected into the session so as to avoid individuals switching off.
  • Egos, ranks and work-related problems must be left at the door.
  • Absolutely no smart devices should be permitted and the facilitator should have a note-taker.

Tips and Timesavers for Brainstorming

The inbound marketing experts Hubspot wrote a useful guide last year on this topic titled 7 Brainstorming Tricks to Inspire Brilliant Ideas. In addition, here are 7 of our own ideas that you might find useful:

  1. Give participants relevant information on the session a few days in advance (reading material)
  2. Request that people come with some ideas already prepared
  3. If it’s just a meeting to brainstorm an issue – keep it to about 30 mins max
  4. Facilitate an environment for ‘bad ideas’ but get rid of them quickly
  5. Organise a representative sample of participants from various business disciplines
  6. Use resource constraints as opportunities rather than obstacles
  7. Provide the opportunity for anonymous submission of ideas before and after the session


There are many reasons outlined in this post, why a business should brainstorm. People have various views and techniques as to how sessions should be facilitated. Of all the tips above, there is one piece of advice that we would like to leave you with.

Provide participants with information on the project well in advance.

Ask them to think about it and jot down any ideas that they may have. The brainstorming session can then be used to discuss and critique all ideas equally. As a result everybody feels included and time isn’t wasted generating new ideas in what some may regard as a pressurised environment.

“Thank you for reading our blog post today” – Aidan & Jim.

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