Many believe in the principle that the production of ideas in groups (brainstorming) is more effective than from the individual. Every company and organisation uses brainstorming techniques, some live by it, whereas others tend to shy away. Why? Because more often than not, they are not effectively carried out and the participants would rather be somewhere else. So what can be done to turn what is great in theory, into something real and tangible?

What is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is the best known technique out there for generating ideas. It was developed by Alex Osborn (a creativity and advertising specialist) in the 1930s and he published in 1963 a book called “Applied Imagination”. It is the basis on which most other techniques on the subject sit. It was applied initially in the field of business to such varied topics as productivity amidst the need to find new ideas and solutions to market products etc. However, its popularity soon spread to academia where specific courses that develop creativity were designed.

How to get the best out of Brainstorming

There are certain fundamental rules when it comes to brainstorming techniques, but on the whole, it is a pretty flexible philosophy. Here are some of the basics, as well as some key tips on how to get the most out of your sessions.

  • Defer judgment and don’t allow criticism. The aim is to create a relaxed and convivial atmosphere of work.
  • Suggest the maximum possible number of ideas. The more ideas that are suggested, the better the results will be. This is because it is based on the premise that the best ideas come late in the production period.
  • Generate ideas through partnership. Having teams work in pairs will also get the most out of the shyer individuals who may hold back on speaking out.
  • Reread what has been said, to give rise to the generation of new ideas.
  • All ideas are welcome, even if they are the most ‘out there’ pieces of madness you’ve ever heard. Ideas can be moulded and lead to others. The truth is that those golden nugget moments come from the strangest of beginnings, so always hold that close.
  • Be self-deprecating about the business. It’s no use only using these sessions to say how good everything is. You want to play around a bit and discover where the weaknesses are, without the team fearing any reproach. To do this, start the ball rolling and see where it leads.
  • Feed their imagination. Come up with some outlandish questions that forces the group to think outside the box.

A Closer Examination

In brainstorming, distinguish different ways of carrying it out, such as the free flow method, structured brainstorming techniques, or ‘silent rain’ among others.

In free flow, notes are written on paper as phrases that represent the problem or issue under discussion. From there, the group set out ideas and they are written with the fewest words possible.

In a structured brainstorming, the goal is the same. The difference is that each member presents his or her ideas sequentially. A group member may assign their turn if they have no idea when it’s up.

In the so-called silent rain ideas, participants indicate their ideas on paper in silence. The papers are circulated among the participants. Each participant can then add other related ideas with which it has received or think of new ideas. Thus, it is possible to generate ideas from the ideas of others and any conflict or intimidation is avoided by the dominant members.

The Role of the Moderator

The role of the moderator is crucial in making an optimal brainstorming session. This is because it’s they who rule the roost, keep the focus of the group and participation of all, by fostering respect.

The responsibilities of this pass through listening, by being fair, writing the conclusions that result from the meeting, encouraging debate if necessary, ensure that the proposals meet the main goal and maintaining respect throughout.

Moderator on a Brainstorming Session - Send Business Centre

Photo by ecphaff (Flickr) is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Brainstorming Feedback

Once the results are obtained, it is advisable to provide feedback to the group so that they are aware of the impact of their own ideas. Also, they can then learn if they will be carried out, how, or whether they will be saved for another time.

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