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Generating new ideas in a group activity. Explanation of Brainstorming.

Brainstorming ProcessThe Brainstorming (brainstorm) method is a semi-structured creative group activity, used most often in ad-hoc business meetings to come up with new ideas for innovation or improvement. Members of the group are encouraged to put forward ideas about a problem and how it may be solved, in order to generate as many ideas as possible, even if they are not always usable alternatives. The idea behind brainstorming is, that a group of people can achieve a higher (synergy) level of creativity than the sum of the participants separately.

Brainstorming Rules

Three major rules for a successful brainstorm session are:

  1. Participants should be encouraged to come up with as much ideas as possible, however strange they are (there are no bad ideas).
  2. No judgment should be given about any idea, until the end of the session. Whether negative or positive.
  3. Participants should be encouraged to build on each others ideas, creating unlikely combinations and taking each one in unexpected directions.

Brainstorming hints

Some hints for a successful brainstorm session are:

  • Use an experienced facilitator. External?
  • Appoint one person to write down all ideas that come out of the brainstorm session.
  • Use a flip chart for making the notes. This enables later study and evaluation at the end of the session.
  • Identify a precise topic to be discussed (keep the session focused on the problem).
  • No more than 8-10 people in one session. If there are more participants, then split up the brainstorm session and report to each other afterwards.
  • One person writes everything down.
  • Evaluate the ideas in 2 steps: A: define the criteria. B: score the results on the criteria.
  • At the end of the brainstorming session you should discuss the steps needed to implement the ideas. If this is complicated, do another brainstorming session on how to implement the ideas.
  • Clearly define the problem you want solved, and lay out any criteria to be met.
  • Ensure that no one criticizes or evaluates ideas during the session. Criticism introduces an element of risk for group members when putting forward an idea. This stifles creativity and cripples the free running nature of a good brainstorming session.
  • Encourage an enthusiastic, uncritical attitude among members of the group.
  • Try to get everyone to contribute and develop ideas, including the quietest members of the group.
  • Let people have fun with the brainstorming meeting.
  • Encourage people to come up with as many ideas as possible. Both the solidly practical ones and the wildly impractical ones are welcome.
  • Welcome creativity.
  • Ensure that no train of thought is followed for too long.
  • Encourage people to develop other people's ideas, or to use other ideas to create new ones.

The effectiveness of brainstorming

Although brainstorms are used frequently worldwide for over 70 years, the effectiveness of them for generating new ideas is debatable. Brainstorms are most effective to generate a lot of ideas in a short timeframe. Group processes are also effective for evaluating existing ideas. However (bright) individuals are said to be better at creating original and higher-quality ideas.

Book: Michael Michalko - Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity) -

Book: Jason Rich - Brain Storm: Tap into Your Creativity to Generate Awesome Ideas and Remarkable Results -

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