Basically, brainstorming is a technique employed to generate creative, or “out-of-the-box,” ideas through collaboration. It usually happens when two or more people sit down and think about a single idea, then it branches out into different, though related, ideas. However, even individuals can brainstorm on their own, which is especially beneficial in creative writing.
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The idea behind brainstorming was first developed by an advertising executive from Madison Avenue, New York: Alex Osborn. In his book, Applied Imagination, Osborn introduced a new creative method for coming up with innovative solutions to problems in a business. Osborn phrased this new idea as “using the brain to storm a creative problem,” where individuals all focus on one issue and work together to find a solution. From Osborn and the infancy of storming a problem with one’s brain came the gradual common usage of the word we know of today as “brainstorming.”
The good thing about brainstorming is that it not only does it take into consideration one’s intellectual capacity, but also one’s past experiences, feelings, opinions, and everything else which relates to the idea or concept being grappled with. On top of that, brainstorming also does not require all minds think alike; in fact, the more diverse the group, the richer and more widespread the ideas that are generated.
Brainstorming should be stress-free: in fact, the very idea behind it revolves around reducing stress by allowing team members to collaborate in an open way. Unrestricted and non-judgmental, brainstorming brings a plethora of ideas and critiques to the table. At first, every word coming out of a team member’s mouth may sound awkward, unrelated, or not important and team members may feel shy about raising new points. But as more team members voice ideas and opinions that come to mind, the team will be surprised at how many different solutions they were able to arrive at. In this activity, all contributions are valid and unfiltered to encourage participation and further the sharing of ideas without self-consciousness.
There are a variety of techniques that can be implemented during a brainstorming session. Teams should try to find the ones that work best for them considering factors like the group’s dynamics and individual team members’ learning styles and preferences. Once a team can employ practices and techniques catered to their own attributes, brainstorming sessions will become increasingly beneficial and efficient.
The theory behind this technique is to give way to idea generation before the team discusses it.
1. The session starts with the team leader giving the topic to team members, with the team then writing down their own individual ideas.
2. Giving individuals the chance to take the time to write out an idea before introducing it to others is helpful because they will have an opportunity to collect their thoughts and organize ideas before having their contributions being discussed by the whole group.
3. This technique gives everyone a chance to freely contribute an idea without anchoring their thoughts towards a certain direction.
Changing Your Attributes:
This brainstorming technique is all about changing one’s perspective.
1. The premise is that one will see a topic from a new angle if able to consider different personal attributes like ethnicity, gender, nationality, weight, etc. and use these attributes to view an issue from the shoes of another individual.
2. The person does not have to think like an entirely different person. They just have to adopt the mindset of a female, if he is a male, for example.3. Relying on empathy, this technique allows team members to envision themselves in an entirely different circumstance and tackle the concept from a fresh lens.
This technique is best used if the group has a lot of participants coming from different departments. Charette is all about using a large amount of team members to better handle an issue.
1. For this technique, a large group of team members is broken down into smaller subgroups and given specific aspects of the larger problem.2. After a group is done discussing one of the smaller topics, the product of the brainstorming session is passed on to another group to build on the same topic.
Collaborative Brain Writing:
Collaborative brain writing enables and fosters creativity and innovation without forcing on-the-spot thinking.
1. In this brainstorming technique, a person writes down his problem or concern and posts it to a bulletin board or public place.2. Other team members are then encouraged to write and post their own ideas in the same place within the week.3. To use this technique, create a Brainstorming session feed on status.net as you always do, and set up a daily recurrence. Every day (until you pause the Brainstorming session), contributors with “who can write” permissions will receive an automatic friendly reminder to check-in and add their ideas or discuss other participant’s ideas.Also, you can invite Guests, who won’t contribute new ideas and won’t receive reminders. Guests will be able to read and discuss the ideas in comments section (each update with a new idea has its own comments section).
Unlike other techniques, directed brainstorming pushes team members into a more specific direction when brainstorming as a group. This method works with a known set of criteria to evaluate whether an idea is good or not.
1. To give more structure for the brainstorming session, a known set of criteria is used to evaluate issues.2. By outlining the criteria ahead of time, directed brainstorming keeps team members on track and ensures relevant discussion.3. During a session, the brainstorming question is given to participants and each write down their response on a piece of paper.4. After writing their responses, the sheets are then randomly swapped among the participants.5. When members receive the new response, they should be able to create a new idea that will enhance the one which was previously written on the paper, based on the initial criteria.6. This process is done for three of more rounds, depending on the outcome of each exchange and whether the organizer is satisfied with the outcome.
This method is all about focusing on the reasons for the issue rather than immediately looking for a direct solution.
1. Team members first focus on discovering the “drivers” behind an issue.2. The “drivers” are the factors causing the issue in the first place.3. Instead of immediately focusing on an issue, it can be beneficial to “take a step back” and work out why the team is having the issue in the first place. For example, the team will want to discover what is causing customers to purchase competitors’ products over their own. Before deciding on any hasty solution like an immediate discount or coupon, the team can see what is driving would-be customers to competitors.4. After identifying and isolating known factors to the problem at hand, it is much easier to develop an appropriate response and further enhance the team’s products to make them more competitive.
This technique is much simpler than others, though sometimes it can be most beneficial to cut out distractions and focus on the basics.
1. Using the “five whys,” the team will take time to simply ask “why is this happening?” five times.2. The response to the “why” may be different each time it is asked and that is exactly what the team is looking for.3. Like the “drivers analysis,” this technique allows the team to postulate a variety of possible factors that can then be discussed.4. After the team has narrowed down contributing factors, the most pressing issue is then focused on and engaged.
Like changing one’s attributes, “figure storming” is all about tackling an issue from a new perspective.
1. In this method, team members are told to choose a figure from history, pop culture, fiction, etc. with whom everyone can identify.2. After choosing a figure, participants put themselves in the shoes of that person and think of how they will address the problem.3. By addressing the problem from a viewpoint other than one’s own, a more diverse set of solutions are likely to arise among the team.
Using this method, participants are seated in a circular form with each writing their idea on a piece of paper. Participants papers are then passed around the group, with each participant adding their own thoughts to the paper they receive. This process will be repeated until each participant gets back their original paper.
1. Using “group passing,” team members will write out their own personal responses to the issue being addressed, then pass along the response to another member of the group.2. This technique focuses on collaboration and building on another team member’s initial idea.3. As each response goes around, team members will contribute to each initial suggestion with ideas of their own.4. The larger the group, the more additional feedback is given.5. The exercise is set to continue until team members get their response and there has been one full rotation.6. As with brainstorming in general, the outcome of the practice is an increased amount of collaboration and engagement with ideas other than one’s own.
A technique that has been around for a long time, “mind mapping” takes a visual approach to mental brainstorming. One of the primary benefits to the technique is the ability for it to be implemented regardless of the amount of team members. Mind mapping works well for not only any sized group, but can be one of the most effective modes of brainstorming for individuals conquering an issue alone.
1. Like traditional brainstorming, mind mapping involves multiple solutions and tangent responses coming together, but with a “map.”2. Instead of generating ideas alone, mind mapping has all the tangent responses connected to the initial issue via a physical representation drawn out to keep track of ideas and interconnectivity.3. The facilitator writes down the topic, problem, or challenge and the participants think of related issues.4. The method uses paper, whiteboard, and markers to enhance the process.5. More layers are added to it as more ideas are generated.
Nominal Group Technique:
In this technique, team members are anonymously contributing ideas. The focus of Nominal Group Technique (NGT) is on ideas rather than individuals.
1. By contributing and discussing concepts anonymously, team members can easily interact with ideas in a critical manner without being concerned about the source of the idea.2. The facilitator collects responses from individual team members followed by the team actively voting and discussing collected thoughts.3. Once a selected amount of ideas has been voted on and approved, the group will focus on the possible solution to find a workable option.
This is a time-constraint brainstorming method which is based on the belief that pressure generates more ideas rapidly.
1. The theory behind “rapid ideation” is based on the concept of pressure generating ideas rapidly.2. The facilitator gives the team a brief overview of the background information around an issue followed by giving team members a limited amount of time to come up with viable solutions.3. With a time constraint imposed on the team, members will be less inclined to feel the need for extended reflection and consideration before contributing ideas.4. Instead, team members are encouraged to contribute all solutions that come to mind and the details can be worked out after the brainstorming session.5. Rapid ideation is all about generating ideas in a short amount of time and works great for those teams that often find themselves sidetracked or stuck during a brainstorming session.
This technique will seem counterintuitive at first, but the results prove to be perfect for narrowing down solutions to an issue. Think about what most people would do in a given situation—then think of how to do the opposite.
1. To “reverse storm,” the team is going to think about what they would typically do in the situation: then think of the exact opposite.2. By working through alternative options, which are not going to be beneficial, the team can prevent time, effort, and resources being spent on a solution which ultimately leads to a dead end.3. For example, the team may think about ideas on how to lose customers.4. Some answers may include impolite staff, low quality products or service, or completely disregarding the customer.5. The team will then realize what they should do if they want to retain their customers.
Role Play Brainstorming:
Using the same principles behind “figure storming,” “role play storming” has team members play a specific role when grappling with a thorny issue.
1. By playing a specific role, participants can gain a deeper insight into the issue and its possible solutions.2. The “role” can be anything, but the most beneficial outcomes come from team members choosing to work on an issue from another occupation.3. For example, a team may be looking for a workable solution to a real company problem and most of the individuals on the brainstorming team may work in accounting. By having the accounting members put themselves in the shoes of the sales department or human resources, role play brainstorming will allow them to see the problem coming from a different, though still relevant, angle.4. Participants using this method in a brainstorming session find it tends to lower inhibitions and helps adopt a new mindset to generate ideas and solutions.
Instead of physically gathering a team together and having them brainstorm out an issue in person, electronic brainstorming takes advantage of software for connecting an entire team remotely.
1. Platforms like status.net allow teams to connect and collaborate even when not in the same room, building, city, or country.
2. On top of the most obvious advantages, electronic brainstorming can save and archive collaborations and ideas for future reference: afterwards, not only do the team members have a solution(s), but there is a record of the entire thought process and the brainstorming session can be consulted again if needed.
3. Often the best ideas don’t come when they’re scheduled to, or under pressure. Electronic brainstorming sessions are available 24/7, which lets the ideas flow at any time, day or night.
Question Storming: The Art of Asking Questions
Every brainstorming session has its own feed that is stored separately. Each feed can have different participants and different permissions (contributor/guest).
Divide feeds/brainstorming sessions by brainstorming technique (to work on one idea using different techniques) or by topic.
The most effective way to generate great ideas from a brainstorming session is dependent on asking the right questions.
In more recent contributions on the topic of brainstorming, many thinkers have introduced and adopted a style of brainstorming which does not aim to look for the best solutions, but rather the right problems and questions.
Team members focus on generating the right problems and questions about those problems rather than initially rolling out a set of solutions. After all, a scientific research proposal would be nothing without the correct question to revolve everything around and answer. Only after having the best question(s) does the research begin to generate conclusions and recommendations for further research and inquiry.
Focusing on asking the right questions rather than initially tackling the issue with a solution is commonly referred to as “question storming.” Question storming, just like brainstorming, aims to come up with a variety of questions related to the issue at hand.
The process works well because it gradually finds solutions and ideas to a concern by first finding the right questions to ask. When a team has a narrowed down list of appropriate questions, members approach the issue with a relevant frame of mind in relation to the problem. While brainstorming is an excellent way of developing ideas, question storming reigns in the team and brings all members to a better place for developing and generating those ideas.
Before the team verbally express individual ideas, they have already had a debate among themselves over what the parameters of the issue are and the result is having a team with the correct, properly focused mindset.
– When team members start asking questions, they are not only branching out, but also challenging the paradigm.– As the team thinks about what can be done to avoid certain outcomes, they may also begin to ask why those things happened in the first place, why they are relevant to the team, how it affected the company, how it affected the project, and how it affected others.– These questions will help form the basic concepts which shape better solutions and ideas in the long run.– Question storming also proves to solicit more participation from the group: because the practice revolves around raising questions rather than proposing immediate solutions, question storming allows more timid team members the opportunity to present ideas as a question to be discussed, rather than a claim to be defended.– Team members are encouraged to raise as many questions as they see fit since the goal is not to find a solution necessarily, but to first establish the correct questions for the topic.– By building up questions, team members will realize other members who have been contributing also have questions which they cannot answer on their own. Along with an increase in team participation, team members will see that even their “stupid” questions are raised by other members of the group. As a result of this collaboration of questions, members learn to be less afraid to ask questions in the future.
Here are some instances where questions storming saved the day:
- A team is working on an easy problem but gets stuck in the middle of discussion. While the problem seemed simple to solve at the beginning, the brainstorming session has proven that the team needs to be guided in a new direction, and it can be done by thinking of what needs to be addressed first, rather than looking for the solution right away.
- In this case, a beneficial move is to focus more on questions around the issue rather than a direct solution from the beginning.
- For example, consider the session of a marketing team which cannot solve a problem at the initial onset of the brainstorming session. Different team members make suggestions in opposing directions, people are not agreeing, and the whole exercise seems to be a waste of time. To better the direction and efficiency of the team, the facilitator decides to ask members to refrain from contributing solutions and begin asking questions that get to the core of the issue. The team then responds with a more appropriate mindset for the task at hand: “Who are the customers we want to reach?” “Where are the found?” “What kind of preferences do they have?” “What are their values?” etc.
- With these new questions for the team to focus on, a much more direct approach can be taken in the brainstorming session to focus on the driving factors behind the situation.
- It is also helpful when the topic is too technical. As part of the research process, you may list your own set of questions about the issue. These questions should help you understand the problem and focus strictly on what you need to know about it.
- Sometimes things just go wrong and the team is left with no idea how or why it occurred. Maybe the team just lost a lot of historically loyal customers or sales have drastically declined without any clear reason why. There have been no recent rival product launches and none of the business schemes have changed. If the team is faced with unexplainable issues, and there appears to be no clear answer, then the best next move is to shift focus and begin asking questions about what could have caused the decline the company is facing. Like in brainstorming, there are no wrong answers in question storming and team members are encouraged to contribute questions until the right series of questions is being asked.
How Do You Run a Successful Question Storming Session?
Start with a statement. It may be an issue that the company is currently dealing with.
1. This will get the ball rolling as participants will already have a question that may have been lingering with them regarding that same issue.
2. For example, the question storming session may start with the issue that the company has been receiving more than a hundred customer complaints in a week.
3. These issues may have been lingering with members far before the session ever took place; but with a topic raised, it gives them an outlet to voice their questions and concerns.
An engaging, thought-provoking statement made as the opener will inevitably ensue questions after question, so:
1. It is best to divide the group, especially if you have a group of ten or more.
2. Form a smaller group and have someone write down the group’s questions.
3. Let them spend ten minutes on this activity.
After the allotted time:
1. Let the groups work together on their set of questions.
2. They may need to merge some questions or expand on them, depending on the context.
3. There may be some questions which are too broad that they need to reformulate.
Next, among the list of questions generated:
1. Each group will select the three most pressing questions to share with the rest of the team.
2. All top questions from the sub groups will be gathered and the entire body will vote on the most relevant questions from those selected.
3. The top questions will be those that arouse and spark the interest of every team member.
4. After the most important questions have been selected, the team is ready for answers. With all the questions raised, the team will have been thinking of solutions simultaneously and the result may be solutions and even action plans for the more pressing issues raised.
5. The product of question storming may not just be ideas or solutions but possibly an action plan.
6. By the end of the question storming session, the team will find themselves not only asking better, more relevant questions about the initial topic, but also with a new set of solutions and other questions which more directly address the primary concern.
Indeed, question storming may prove to be an excellent complement to brainstorming as it enriches activity more by adding additional layers to an already creative process.
Tips To Effective Brainstorming
Brainstorming is a truly effective instrument for soliciting ideas from an originally casual conversation. Besides the no-stress aspect of the activity, brainstorming also has the benefit of collecting an expansive volume of ideas in a short amount of time. Here are some ways to ensure the success of a brainstorming session with your own team:
Clarify the objectives.
Define precisely what needs to be achieved by the end of the session and focus the effort on getting there. While brainstorming is primarily an unrestrained activity, zeroing in on objectives helps produce more relevant and usable output. Without a primary focus, the brainstorming session can unintentionally focus on a tangential topic and not the issue at hand.
Get everyone to participate.
Remember that brainstorming does not rely on the position or intellectual capacity of team members, but rather the input from as many parties as possible to gather a more extensive range of ideas. Encourage everyone to speak up, especially those who may not typically contribute in most situations and are more timid in conversation. Watch for those who typically dominate the conversation and make sure they do not deprive other members of the chance to contribute.
Let the ideas flow freely first before discussing and elaborating.
Before discussing specifics and asking for elaboration, encourage the free flow of ideas and contributions from everyone. While quality is important, the initial goal of brainstorming is to generate quantity to build from. Emphasize on quantity over quality because there is a greater chance to discover great ideas along the way if there are plenty of options to consider.
Remember that there are no wrong ideas in brainstorming. Criticism, especially in the initial stage of the activity, will discourage other team members from sharing unconventional ideas and will restrict creative contributions. Out-of-the-box ideas should be welcomed and not frowned upon.
Connect and enhance ideas.
Find ways to relate each idea and find a connection with each one brought to the attention of the group. Connecting ideas allows for the team to build and improve on contributions made by others; when properly done, the kind of output generated may be surprising.
With the proper techniques and implementation developed to suit your team’s preferences and group dynamics, brainstorming is an effective way to gather ideas efficiently and process them into something which addresses problems with appropriate solutions and enhances the business.