What is Brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a powerful technique used, generally as a group, to generate as many ideas as possible on a particular subject.

The sessions are most effective to generate a lot of ideas in a short timeframe. The purpose is to create an endless flow of energy between group members so that each idea may spark another within someone else.

It also solve problems, motivates and develops teams. Brainstorming motivates because it involves members of a team in bigger management issues, and it gets a team working together.

All ideas will later be reviewed and synchronized. Not all ideas will be viable or usable, but should be recorded none the less – someone in the group may get an idea from just seeing an idea. The general idea is that a group will generate more ideas at a higher level of creativity than an individual can.

It’s a great way to generate ideas on how to solve a problem and decision alternatives – it is a blending of group problem solving and discussion. It operates on the premise that the more ideas that are generated, the greater the possibility of finding a workable solution to a given problem. It helps groups to suspend judgement for some period of time. Nominal Group Technique is another type of brainstorm, in which the individuals are given a shot on trying it on their own before contributing ideas.

After data and ideas are collected, they may be organized and prioritized by such methods as the The Card Technique.

Who Uses Brainstorming?

Businesses use it in their strategy building and planning sessions, and it is also often used by non-profit and community groups when trying to solve a problem, or get creative ideas around an event they are planning.

What is a Brainstorming Session?

It’s a period of time in which an individual or group meet under semi-structured conditions to generate ideas. They are given a topic, and usually have a facilitator and/or scribe to record the ideas and potentially guide the group when they are excitedly firing ideas at the scribe. A session may be planned or ad-hoc.

A planned session may have participants come with a few ideas to get started with. An unplanned session may be spawned from a discussion, where the group hits a block and the meeting planner or a participants suggests “Let’s Brainstorm some solutions for this for 10 minutes”

Brainstorming places a significant burden on the facilitator to manage the process, people’s involvement and sensitivities, and then to manage the follow up actions. Use Brainstorming well and you will see excellent results in improving the organization, performance, and developing the team.

A session has three stages: –Idea Generation –Analyze & Synchronize Ideas –Create an Action Plan

Brainstorming Session Steps

1. State the purpose/objective – if possible, in the form of a question.

2. Assess seating arrangements, and group numbers. If more than 10 people, split up.

3. Appoint a scribe unless one has been provided.

4. Explain the rules of brainstorm (see below).

5. Set time limit. Give 2 minute warning during the session

6. Generate & record ideas

7. Set criteria for analyzing ideas – what is feasible, what is acceptable

8. Choose the best ideas (as a group, set the number you will keep)

9. Brainstorm the steps needed to implement the best ideas, one by one.

10. Re-rank ideas.

11. Set action plan. 12. Assign action items such as clarification or research.

13. Thank and dismiss the group

14. Follow up with the group.

What Are Brainstorming Rules?

–Participants should be encouraged to express as many ideas as possible. Quantity is the goal. More ideas mean more likelihood of winners. Be wild, be creative, be silly. –No discussion during the session on any of the ideas – allow clarification of idea or definition only

–No judgement until the end of the session, but may be combined with existing ideas if they are similar.

–No idea evaluation during the idea generation portion of the session

–Participants can build on the ideas of others that have already been mentioned, and this should actually be encouraged. Combine and amend ideas. Expand, delete, consolidate, substitute, reverse, make analogies, make the problem bigger and smaller

Suggestions for a Successful Session

–Use a scribe (separate from facilitator if possible)–Paper the walls of a room with paper flip chart paper.

–Use an experienced or professional faciliator. See that they are skilled in thinking theory, Mind Mapping and the practice of getting “unstuck”. –Use lots of different colored pens to later mark and organize ideas

–If the group is large, break the group into smaller groups of 5-8 people–Set a time limit

–Clearly state the purpose and write it on one of the sheets of paper so that everyone can glance back at it

–Allow everyone to think about the question for 2 minutes. Encourage them to jot down their ideas for themselves.

–State the rules – encourage everyone to contribute, and encourage no one to critique while recording the ideas

–Ensure that the group doesn’t discuss or deliberate ideas for any period of time – keep it moving!

–Encourage listing as many ideas as possible – crazy, zany ideas as well as practical ideas

–Go around the room to get the session started and allow each person to say their first few ideas that they had jotted down

— Set a time limit – likely no more than 30 minutes before analysis

Ideas for Getting Unstuck

If you get stuck during a brainstorm and decision session, try these ideas:

— Use word association (colors, numbers, letters of the alphabet, etc.)

— Try reversing the idea

— Try a tool such as Mind Mapping

— Try reversing a timeline (where did something come from, or evolve to?)

— Try thinking about what the competitor does/has/produces

— Play the “What If Game” – What if we had endless $, Time, People, etc.

— Use some of the paper for Mind Mapping

Suggestions for Synchronization and Judgment

— Set Criteria for judgement. Examples include “it should be cost effective”, “it should be legal”, “it should be possible to finish before Dec 31”, etc.

— Group Similar Ideas

— Number the ideas

— Place “X” beside unfeasible or undesirable ideas – the group decides

— If an idea is deemed feasible, define criteria. This may further define feasiblity.

— Use the Six Hats Method for feasible ideas

— Generate a separate list of the top 5-10 ideas (depending on how many you need)

— Secret vote ranking the ideas (add up the ranking numbers) of all feasible or good ideas OR give each idea a score of 0 to 5 points depending on how well it meets each criterion. Once all of the ideas have been scored for each criterion, add up the scores.

Good Uses for Brainstorming and Decisions

–Any kind of innovation activity

–Ideas about how a problem can be solved

–New product or service ideas?

–New feature ideas?

–Feature/product naming?

–Promotion ideas?

–New process for doing something?–Web Site Usability Assessment

–Conference & Event Planning

–Anything where you need a theme

–Reviewing Productivity of a Department See also Decision Making Tools and Decision Making Models which can be used within the brainstorm process. These tools and models can build and set context for brainstorm, and a framework for Brainstorming actions. Select the appropriate models or tools for the topic/objective and group at hand.

SWOT analysis – for assessing the strength of a company, department, proposition or idea.

PEST analysis – for measuring the attractiveness and potential of a market.

Garbage Can Decision Model – for University and Government problems and solutions

Six Thinking Hats – for analyzing the ideas

PISCO – for problem assessment

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