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Brainstorming - a tool for generating ideas

Learn the rules of brainstorming, how to organize an effective group brainstorming, and the advantages and disadvantages of this method!

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What is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a work technique that involves coming up with a solution to a problem spontaneously. Brainstorming is designed to stimulate creative thinking and integrate the team, and ultimately solve the problem.

The technique was developed in the mid-20th century by American entrepreneur Alex Osborn. Osborn believed that group search for a solution to a problem was more effective than individual work. However, the effectiveness of this method mainly depends on whether the team follows certain rules.

Brainstorming rules

  1. Come up with as many ideas as possible. The more potential solutions the better.
  2. No criticism of other group members’ ideas. We do not judge other people or their ideas. We refrain from negative comments.
  3. Collaborative refinement of emerging solutions. One idea can inspire more ideas. Brainstorming is supposed to be a synergy of good ideas.
  4. Openness to all ideas, including those that are strange and at first glance senseless. We do not reject ideas we do not understand. There will come a time to explain them.
  5. Appreciate good ideas. By publicly appreciating the best ideas, we encourage others to express their opinions and stimulate their creativity even more.

How to organize an effective brainstorming?

Establish a team

The first step in organizing the brainstorming is to select the people who will participate in this “experiment”. Remember that the selected people should be different – have a different way of thinking, a different personality, specialize in different areas of knowledge, represent different departments in the company. The more diverse the team, the better. The ideal team consists of 5 to 10 people. The more people who participate in brainstorming, the more difficult it will be to moderate the whole exercise.

Get the room ready

Before you plan to start brainstorming, prepare the room. Ideally, each participant should have a chair and feel comfortable. In addition, prepare a whiteboard or flipchart and paper, markers, pens and post-it notes for participants.

Choose a moderator

If the team is already selected, the next step is to choose a moderator. The moderator should know the problem that will be analyzed during the brainstorming. It helps to ask the right questions, directing the group to focus their thoughts on a particular problem. The moderator is a person who knows the team and can draw even the most shy people into the discussion. The moderator should also know the most important principles of brainstorming and be able to listen actively – this is very important.

It’s also a good idea to designate a person to write down ideas proposed by the team on the board (or flipchart).

Define the purpose of brainstorming

For brainstorming to be successful, it is extremely important that the problem and goal are properly defined and understood by the entire team. The SMART method can be used to define the goal.

Most often, in the first stage of brainstorming, the team reflects on the root cause of the problem. And in the next session, it generates ideas that will help solve the identified problem.

Explain the rules of brainstorming and determine the duration of the meeting

All participants should know the rules of brainstorming and follow them without fail. The moderator’s task is to present the rules before the session begins. In addition, the moderator should set a time limit for the meeting. A time limit causes participants to feel pressure and be more motivated to actively participate in brainstorming. Experts suggest that the duration of such a meeting should be no shorter than 30 minutes and no longer than 60 minutes.

Lead the discussion

When everyone knows the problem, the goal and the rules – the moderator begins the process of generating ideas. In case no one wants to be the first to speak publicly – the moderator tries to guide the team and stimulate creative thinking. For example, saying: “Imagine that we don’t have budget constraints, we can build the perfect control tool.” Or by asking guiding questions, “What do you think the ideal production line should look like?”, “What should the ideal flow of information in the company look like?”.

Once the participants have begun to talk aloud about their ideas, write them down on cards, then put them on the board and discuss them. It is important that, all suggestions are well understood by all participants in the brainstorming.

Choose ideas

After you have finished generating ideas, take a look at all the ideas you have saved. Remove duplicates. Then group the ideas written on the post-it cards thematically. And finally, choose the ideas you want to spend more time on in later analysis. How to make a selection? One method of selection is Multivoting. It involves asking each person to approach the board and mark (for example, with a “cross”) the 3 ideas that seem best to them. Once all participants have marked their choices, we move on to calculating the “crosses.” Those ideas that have the most “crosses” are the best ideas considered by the team.

Multivoting

Brainstorming - Multivoting

Another method of selecting solutions is the Ease and Effect or otherwise PayOff matrix. On the horizontal axis you mark “ease” (ease of implementing the solution), and on the vertical axis you mark “effect” (effect, impact of the solution).

Then you and your team analyze an idea by idea and try to match the them to a specific area of the matrix.

Ease and Effect / PayOff matrix

Brainstorming -Ease and Effect

Thank the team

The final stage of brainstorming is to thank the team for their participation in the discussion and involvement. At this stage, the selected ideas should be briefly discussed and the next action steps should be initially determined. Participants must feel that their efforts were not wasted.

What are the disadvantages of brainstorming?

  • Participating in brainstorming can cause frustration and be a source of stress for people who have low self-esteem and do not like to share ideas in a public forum.
  • A moderator is needed to guide the discussion. Having everyone speak at the same time can cause chaos. On the other hand, waiting for “one’s turn” to speak can cause ideas to be forgotten.
  • A mishandled discussion can lead to conflicts.

What are the advantages of brainstorming?

  • Participants can get to know each other better and integrate while participating in brainstorming.
  • “Delegating” the solution to the problem to the brainstorming participants makes the ideas generated by them more likely to be implemented than those “forced” from above.
  • Noticeable synergy effect. The quantity and quality of the group’s ideas are better than those of each participant individually.
  • It is a problem-solving tool that is quite simple for participants to understand and does not require specialized knowledge.
  • Brainstorming works like a “chain reaction.” Good ideas fuel even more and better ideas.

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