Brainstorming is a powerful team method for creating new ideas, solving problems, and motivating and developing teams. It prompts collaboration because it involves team members in larger organizational and management issues and gets a team going with each other.

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 full assessment or lateral thinking is needed.

Brainstorming is also appropriate when the information about an issue 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 the team members.

Brainstorming is not a random activity. It needs to be structured and follows 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, father of the Brainstorming sessions, set forth these guidelines for a 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 very good idea, leading to a novel solution.

Build on one another’s ideas.

To lengthen the list of ideas, brainstorming participants are encouraged to develop, 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; and the wilder the ideas are, the better it is. 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 members.

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 for doing 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 address 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 of the brainstorming session.

Step 7: During the course of the brainstorming session, facilitators typically take participants through four distinct stages:

  • Stating the problem: The facilitator states the problem in neutral terms so that the members begin the brainstorming session with as few preconceived biases as possible about the problem.
  • Restating the problem: The facilitator encourages members to restate the question in different words. Encouraging restatements help 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 quieter times, 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

Use these tips to become a master in conducting the brainstorming session and take your decision making capabilities to the next level

Jappreet Sethi

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