Brainstorming is a way for a group to generate as many ideas as possible in a very short time by tapping into group knowledge and individual creativity. Brainstorming produces ideas by encouraging the participation of all group members through structured and unstructured thought processes on a given subject. It requires participants to be willing to express their ideas without evaluating them, remain open to new ideas, and refrain from criticizing suggestions. Brainstorming works best in an uninhibited environment where ideas are freely generated and built upon.
When to Use Brainstorming
Brainstorming is particularly useful when trying to generate ideas about problems, areas for improvement, possible causes, other solutions, and resistance to change. By bringing out many creative ideas quickly and encouraging all group members to participate, this activity opens up people’s thinking and broadens their perspectives. It allows ideas to build on one another, which would not occur if each team member were interviewed separately. Brainstorming is very simple to apply and is most productive with 6 to 15 people.
How to Use Brainstorming
Step 1. Write the question or issue to be explored through brainstorming on a flip chart, blackboard, or any place where everyone can see it. Make sure that everyone is clear about the topic.
Step 2. Review the rules of brainstorming:
- Do not discuss ideas during the brainstorming
- Do not criticize any idea
- Be unconventional: every idea is acceptable
- Build on the ideas of others
- Quantity of ideas counts
Step 3. Gather ideas. Give people a few minutes to think of some ideas before starting. Brainstorming can be unstructured or structured. In unstructured brainstorming, each person voices ideas as they come to mind. This method works well if participants are outgoing and feel comfortable with each other. In structured brainstorming, each person gives an idea in rotation (a person can pass if he or she doesn’t have one at the moment). Structured brainstorming works well when people are unfamiliar with one another or are less talkative: the structure encourages everyone to speak.
Step 4. Write all ideas on a flip chart.
Step 5. After all the ideas have been generated (usually after about 30–45 minutes), review each one, clarify the idea if necessary, and combine related ideas.
Step 6. Agree on ways to judge ideas, and use data collection, voting, or prioritization matrices to choose among options. Groups often use voting techniques first to reduce the list to about six to 10 top ideas and then use other techniques to choose among this shorter list.
Points to Remember
Brainstorming is a technique for generating ideas, but each idea will need elaboration.
Discussing or judging ideas while brainstorming impedes the exercise and limits the flow of ideas. Save discussion until the end.
If one or a few individuals dominate the discussion in an unstructured brainstorming session, shift to a structured brainstorming format.