Brainstorming is a group-thinking activity that is used in many small businesses to large organizations, with the purpose to draw out the most creative impulses.
Groups can brainstorm to focus on business challenges that have no easy answers. Or teams can brainstorm as a regular exercise to power up members’ cognitive abilities.
What is true brainstorming? How can your team use it most effectively?
Brainstorming is different to decision-making meetings, in which the meeting should come to a close with defined agreements to move forward.
A brainstorm session can be the starting point for an entirely new way to look at a business challenge, rather than the definitive outcome.
In any case, brainstorming can be a powerful tool used for coming up with ideas if done the right way!
Unfortunately too many people are doing it wrong and missing out on the advantages of brainstorming.
Origins of brainstorming
Brainstorming’s origins are said to have been in the 1950s via the writings of an advertising executive named Alex Osborn, who held Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Philosophy.
Mr. Osborn had already published several books about how the judicial mind that analyzed and selected ideas was in fact inhibiting the imaginative mind.
He theorized that people’s imaginations would flourish with ideas, if people could suspend the practice of using the critical, analytical part of our brains to assess ideas.
To help popularize this thought concept, Osborn came up with the basic tenets that are used even today in group brainstorming sessions:
Propose as many ideas as you can think of for a particular project.
Don’t worry if the ideas are far-fetched.
Don’t be quick to judge or criticize ideas initially.
Slowly build on the ideas people generate.
Mold the best ideas into key responses to the opportunity, challenge or crisis.
Advantages of Brainstorming
First, brainstorming allows people in an organization to look differently at ways to solve problems.
Brainstorming also provides participants a focused time of creative thinking, while opening up their perceptions to other people’s creative thought processes.
Brainstorming also helps bring about a cohesive team spirit when done properly.
People participating in a brainstorm should take their roles seriously.
They should think about ideas that will work as solutions, or help to stimulate solution ideas in the other participants (I call this the “What if” principle).
Most importantly, participants in a brainstorming session should speak up, and get their ideas out into the open. Brainstorming sessions are not the place for shy introverts!
5 General Rules of Brainstorming
There are right ways and wrong ways to put a great brainstorming session together. Here are some of the key brainstorming techniques developed over years of practice.
Brainstorm One Main Problem – A good brainstorming session should address one main focus. Adding too many problems to a brainstorm can muddle the ideation process.
Go for Quantity – The greater the number of ideas, the better the chances of coming up with good solutions later on
Withhold Criticism – Don’t judge the person or the idea in a brainstorm. Suspend judgment and let everyone feel that they can contribute to the brainstorm without any fear of rejection.
Welcome Wild Ideas – Wild is good! Don’t try to put boundaries on the brainstorm. Sometimes the wildest ideas can be molded into the most effective business solutions.
Combine and Improve Ideas – Work through ways to build off people’s ideas and solutions. Take a wild idea and mend it with a more practical idea in order to create an entirely new solution.
I also recommend that the session be held early in the work week, with rested participants and plenty of caffeine!