The abc of Brainstorming
Brainstorming is one of the best ? known techniques for stimulating creativity and generating ideas, particularly useful for groups. The birth of brainstorming is typically credited to Alex Osborn, a partner in a New York advertising agency, who formalized a set of ground rules for the practice of brainstorming. Osborn defined brainstorming as a technique for groups to discover solutions to specific problems by gathering together spontaneously generated ideas by the group members.
Brainstorming is a powerful team technique for creating new ideas, solving problems, and motivating and developing teams. It motivates because it involves team members in larger organizational and management issues and gets a team working together.
When to Use
In general, brainstorming is useful for creating a cross ? fertilization of ideas when new ideas are required and there is a need to generate a large list of possibilities. It is also useful for teams working to solve particularly inflexible problems where answers cannot be logically deduced and intense assessment or lateral thinking is needed.
Brainstorming is also appropriate when the information about a problem is distributed across several individuals, and it is necessary to gather the information in one place. Finally, brainstorming can be used as a team ? building technique: through the creative synergy generated, it can be useful for creating a connection or bond among team members.
Specific uses for brainstorming in business include:
To assist with developing ideas for new products
To improve existing products or processes
To solve marketing, advertising, or personnel problems
To improve work processes, managerial methods, and company structure and policy
Although brainstorming is a creativity technique in itself, it is also useful in combination with many other creativity techniques such as brainstorming within an idea checklist session and brainstorming while creating a mind map.
Brainstorming is not a random activity. It needs to be structured and follow several key rules.
In brainstorming, a problem or challenge is defined in neutral terms. Participants then spontaneously share ideas for solving the problem. These ideas are offered under specific conditions. Osborn set forth these guidelines for a brainstorming session:
Postpone criticism of ideas.
Criticism and harsh evaluation will interfere with flexible idea generation. Postponing criticism or judgment of the ideas generated in a brainstorming session encourages a creative atmosphere where new ideas are reinforced rather than punished.
Aim for large quantities of ideas.
Creative ideas occur infrequently. The notion underlying brainstorming is that the more ideas that are generated, the higher the probability is that one of the ideas generated will be appropriate and creative. Typically ideas produced later in a brainstorming session (after the easy, quick, automatic or routine responses are out of the way) are more imaginative. The number of ideas that are generated is directly proportional to the chances of discovering a great idea, leading to a novel solution.
Build on one another?s ideas.
To lengthen the list of ideas, brainstorming participants are encouraged to build on, embellish, and enrich the other ideas generated, spontaneously hitchhiking on the ideas of others.
Encourage wild and exaggerated ideas.
Participants are more likely to find a creative and workable idea by being wild first and taming it down rather than criticizing, evaluating, and editing in the process. In a typical brainstorming session, all ideas are accepted; the wilder the ideas, the better. However, most people are not used to pushing for wild ideas. The leader or facilitator of a brainstorming session can assist by modeling how to generate wild ideas or can provide some preliminary practice or warm ? up activities to loosen the team up first. When it appears that all ideas have been generated, participants should push for another round of idea generation, allowing themselves to be even more outrageous.
Once participants understand the ground rules, a brainstorming session can begin. It typically has the following steps:
Step 1: Form a brainstorming group with between four and fifteen participants. The optimal size for a brainstorming group is five to seven participants.
Step 2: Select an individual to coordinate and facilitate the brainstorming session. The facilitator guides and monitors the process, making sure all the ground rules are followed.
Step 3: Select a method (and perhaps assign a particular individual to be responsible to do this) to record the ideas generated. Ideas can be recorded on flip charts, sticky notes, overhead projector transparencies, blackboards, whiteboards and electronic whiteboards, or pads of paper. For electronic brainstorming, the computer may function as the memory bank for the ideas generated.
Step 4: Select participants who have a vested interest in solving the problem and specialized knowledge necessary to solve it.
Step 5: Select an appropriate location for the session (for example, a quiet meeting room with a comfortable and informal seating arrangement). Gather other necessary resources as well.
Step 6: To begin the session, the facilitator reviews the ground rules and the purpose and topic for the brainstorming session.
Step 7: During the body of the brainstorming session, facilitators typically take participants through four distinct stages:
Stating the problem: The facilitator states the problem in neutral terms, so participants begin the brainstorming session with as few preconceived biases with regard to the problem as possible.
Restating the problem: The facilitator encourages participants to restate the problem in different words. Encouraging restatements helps the team see different perspectives on the problem. The team then selects one or more of the restatements to brainstorm on.
Brainstorming: The facilitator calls for a free flow of ideas around the problem issue. There may be periods of rapid idea generation and then slow, awkward times when no ideas are being created. During the slow time, the group should return to the ideas that have been generated and build on them. When sufficient ideas have been generated, the team may benefit from taking a break before moving on to the evaluation stage.
Evaluating generated ideas: The final list of ideas is subjected to critical judgment and evaluation. A process of elimination is used to weed out the least promising ideas progressively, until the team selects the ideas most likely to solve the problem. Ideas are then developed into specific action plans for implementation
Other communication tools available to spread out teams, such as video conferencing, Audio conferencing, synchronous computer meetings with video and audio links, and interactive whiteboards, can also be used in electronic brainstorming. The tools are, for the most part, supportive of synchronous brainstorming sessions. Virtual teams may also find asynchronous threaded discussion boards to be valuable tools in allowing for multiple ideas to be generated in parallel sequences.