Brainstorming is a group 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 members.
As of wikipedia.com
Recently we had chance to create a brainstorming session for Polish students and outline the topic for them. Below you can find some of the bullet-points we think are essential.
History of brainstorming
The term “brainstorming” was popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn. Alex was unsatisfied by his coworkers. They weren’t able to produce creative ideas needed in advertisement industry. He started to organize group-thinking sessions and discovered significant improvement in both: quality and quantity of ideas produced by employees. Osborn outlined this method in 1948 in his book “Your Creative Power”. One of the bullet-points outlined by Osborn was the fact that people which are not associated with the problem can create the most unconventional ideas and solutions.
Brainstorming is used for generating the biggest amount of creative ideas as an answer for problem or task. You should remember that brainstorming requires intuition, imagination, ingenuity from its participants. It can be used almost every time when you need to improve something or create something new. For example it is being used for creation or improvement of:
- marketing strategies;
- research methods;
- internal procedures in companies;
- firm structures;
- management methods;
- answering brief needs.
Why is it so hard?
People in groups follows the schemes.
Also people have different personalities which may lead to a failure of brainstorming.
Ones are too loud, open and outgoing. They might scare the rest of the group by their active and loud personality. You can also find nay-sayers which will bomb every idea. This is especially scary situation because brainstorming is mostly about not criticizing and not judging. There are shy people which you should empower to speak their mind. People also have various motivations. That is why it is so important to have experienced moderator. Moderator should create environment suitable for all different personalities.
Why brainstorming works?
Brainstorming session is a comfortable environment that encourages all participants to speak their mind. Criticism and opinions are forbidden. It leads to great, unconventional, extraordinary ideas and solutions. Its effectivity is not a matter of technical things. It is strictly connected to psychological aspect of such an open and friendly environment.
It is a team task
Alex Osborn claims that it is the best to have two different teams with different responsibilities during brainstorming sessions.
First of them is “creative team” with optimal number of 12 people. It is supposed to create as many ideas as possible. It should be heterogeneous: with people of different age, gender, experience. It is also good when even one third of them is not familiar with the business (they are the biggest source of unconventional ideas).
Second team is “judging team” with optimal number of 3. Their role is to judge and grade the ideas. This team should consist of specialists which are familiar with the business, technology, company. They should be able to evaluate possible and impossible ideas, new and old.
Based on my experience, I think that it is not mandatory to divide the group into two separate teams. We had the best results while combining the groups into one, where everyone is able to participate in brainstorming from the beginning. The mix of newbies and experts results with the most extraordinary ideas which are still possible to implement.
- Go for quantity.
- Withhold criticism.
- Welcome wild ideas.
- Combine and improve ideas.
Those four rules are the foundation of successive brainstorming. Simply just follow them as much as you can and you will be on a great path to success
During first stage moderator should inform all participants about the problem that needs to be solved. Moderator can also present some data about the problem i.e. charts, research results, some surveys, all the data that is available and important on topic. It is also good to inform about the main rules (wild ideas are welcome, comments and criticism is forbidden, everyone should be open).
This stage should be c.5 minutes long. It is time for writing down first ideas on post-it notes. You can also add some sketches to it, or short description. After this time each participant is asked to say few words about his/her ideas and to post it on wall or other surface where you can post and later group all the ideas
In the next step moderator is supposed to ask about new ideas which may come up to the group after hearing their colleagues. You are also welcome to ask many questions to streamline and boost all people involved in brainstorming. Part related to creating new ideas should be no longer than 30 minutes.
When you have all ideas posted on wall, you can announce short break (c. 5 minutes). During this break it is possible that attendees would discuss about the topic so it is good to ask if anyone would like to present something extra.
Now it is time to classify and group all ideas. Everyone involved (also moderator) should cooperate to group the ideas into a few categories. You should also name those categories. It is very useful in the evaluation stage.
Sometimes it is super hard to make all of the participants to speak their mind. That is why you can give all of them few days to rethink the problem and then add their ideas to the “board”. It can be done in many different ways. You can set up an extra room with all post-its in it. Or you can use some cloud-based services and give access to it to all participants. It is great when you have time for extra brainwriting, because some people are shy and also some researches have shown that it is good to leave a problem for a few days and let the subconscious work
This is one of the most important stages. Based on previous stages you should have many different concepts. Some of them will be extraordinary, wild, crazy, unable to implement and other ones will be safe, secure, boring, but it is a good thing. Now it is time to find your priorities and decide which of the presented ideas are worth expanding and working on. One of the possible ways of doing that is to vote. You can give each of the participants c.5 votes to vote on all the ideas. Then it is time to sum up the votes and talk through the highest rated ideas. You should ask about people decisions, votes and ideas and create a discussion. Also the result should be possible to implement but still innovative. It should solve your problem and suit your priorities. In this phase voting can be done by your old group or by the second “judging team”. It is really up to you. Based on my experience i suggest to combine judging team with creative team – it gave me the best results.
This is the last stage which is not exactly a part of brainstorming but it is the most important one. As a result you should be able to create a prototype, test it and at the end implement it as a solution for the given problem.
As mentioned before brainstorming is a group creativity technique. There are many different techniques of running a brainstorming sessions. Below I will outline two quite unusual ones.
This method simply refers to:
- 6 persons;
- 3 ideas;
- 5 minutes.
Each person should write 3 ideas on a piece of paper during 5 minutes. Then everyone passes a note to the next person. After this everyone is given another 5 minutes to expand or modify friends ideas. This method leads to a great results in a very limited time. It is also good when you have very shy team because it is easier to pass a note than say few sentences about your idea in front of group.
Scamper method is all about expanding an existing idea in seven different ways:
- S – substitute.
- C – combine.
- A – adapt.
- M – modify.
- P – put to another use.
- E – eliminate.
- R – reverse.
Thanks to it you can change part of an existing idea into something new and different. Although it can’t be used for creating something from scratch. You need a starting point for this method.
The digital era
Nowadays you can work in a remote team and still be able to run brainstorming sessions. Below you can find some great cloud tools which help a lot in on-line brainstormings.
Conceptboard is a collaboration platform with a visual focus for marketing & remote teams. It allows you to work on visual content & brainstorm ideas with anyone, from anywhere.
Prezi is a presentation software that uses motion, zoom, and spatial relationships to bring your ideas to life and make you a great presenter. But it is also easy to use it for brainstorming sessions in a remote team.
Stormboard is an on-line brainstorming and collaboration platform .Brainstorm, organize, prioritize and act on the best ideas, in the same room or around the world, on a real-time sticky note whiteboard.
Google docs (cloud services)
I think that nowadays you can use many different cloud based services to create great brainstorming in a remote teams. You are not limited to dedicated tools. Just use your creativity, and maybe adapt Google docs spreadsheet for your brainstorming needs.
Brainstorming can lead your team to great effects in a really short time. Unfortunately it is easy to take the wrong path. That is why, it is so important to have an experienced moderator. The main bulletpoint in order to have an effective brainstorming is not to criticize. It is a lot harder to create new, innovative ideas than eliminate bad ones. So do not criticize, encourage people to speak up, create positive and open environment, expand or modify ones ideas and you can expect some great results in a limited time. Based on my experience brainstorming sessions are also very liked by participants. All the guys whom took part in our brainstormings were very positive about this experience and its effects. So all in all it is not only idea effective but it is also quite nice team-building tool.
In my opinion brainstorming is just a tool. Great tool but just a tool. You should experiment with it and shouldn’t be feared in changing some aspects or elements of it. Modify or combine different methods so they suit your needs. Experiment and have fun. Because whole brainstorming idea is all about fun and creativity.
Please, read this text with a critical eye. I’d love to hear constructive feedback or counterarguments. I’d be very interested in continuing a thorough discussion about this topic.