Wikipedia describes brainstorming as:
a group or individual creativity technique by which efforts are made to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its member(s).
In our common understanding it is usually a meeting during which we are trying to solve a problem by generating a vast amount of ideas. Ideas are mixed, connected and transformed to get the best possible solution. We are interacting with each other – synergy – to achieve more by collective thinking. By the way, the brainstorming term is quite young. It was created and popularized in 40’s and 50’s of the twentieth century.
The brainstorming process can be separated into a few steps. It starts with idea presentation and recording. Whilst more and more ideas are available, some of them are transformed, some connected and some enhanced. When no one has more ideas to present or there is no time available, analysis and filtering happens. The best idea or ideas are chosen and their implementation steps are possibly agreed.
While it might look like otherwise, it is not an easy task to perform a brainstorming session successfully. To get really good results, several rules should be followed:
- no evaluation and judgement should be done during the idea presentation phase – it is one of the most important principles. Not following it might significantly decrease creativity as people will be afraid to present some strange ideas that may appear very valuable,
- maintain focus on extreme and unusual concepts – they increase a variety of possible solutions and are a great stimulant for other ideas,
- get as many ideas as possible – the same as above – increases variety and stimulant for great concepts,
- let the ideas mix together and evolve – do not stick to already written concepts,
- one brainstorming session should address one specific problem – make sure that every participant knows very well what it is, outline it before in details. Keep all people focused on it and cut down all off topics,
- keep the session group small – usually groups larger than 6 or 7 people are ineffective. I personally prefer groups of 4 people.
Keep in mind that you can brainstorm not only in a group but also individually. Book about 20 minutes of your time, follow the rules above and let your imagination do the work. You can use free writing, word associations or mind map techniques to facilitate the process. For example, it is a great process for figuring out blog topics. Try it out and see the results.
During every brainstorming session you should be careful not to fall into pitfalls. The most common are:
- people do not have enough time to present their ideas – especially common in large groups. An additional drawback is that people focus on remembering their ideas to present them in a proper moment instead of actual creative thinking. This significantly decreases session outcome quality. One solution to this problem is to provide everyone with a piece of pen and paper and shortly train to take fast notes of whatever comes to their minds on the fly,
- all ideas are framed to a few specific areas – happens when whole groups focus on already presented and recorded concepts. To fix it try to throw a few controversial and even non related ideas,
- part of the group is afraid of judgement and does not present all their ideas – the person conducting the session should be focused on the overall atmosphere and make sure that everybody understands that during the first phase all ideas are great,
- several members dominate over the rest – it is also the topic for a person conducting the session. They should make sure that everyone can present their ideas,
- outstanding members lowers their contribution level to match the group – almost the same as above but with one difference: encourage such people to fully present their concepts.
Brainstorming sessions can be a great and enjoyable way of finding solutions to problems. However, to get from them as much as possible they need to be conducted properly by an experienced person. It should be ensured that everyone knows exactly what the group is brainstorming about and everyone can freely and without judgement present their ideas. Conforming to a few simple rules and conducting sessions properly can greatly increase their outcome.