A divergent thinking tool
for idea generation
on a given subject in a limited period of time. Brainstorming is typically conducted in a facilitated session or workshop environment to stimulate creative thinking
, to create novel or innovative solutions
to a problem, and to introduce "controlled chaos"
into the thought process. It is the most widely used technique to cultivate ideas
. The objective is quantity, not necessarily quality and is based on the principle that "many brains are often better than one."
- Democratic participation is encouraged
- Group members can bond over ideas
- Fast-pace, even energizing activity
- Non-evaluation of the content and ideas generated
- Stimulating ideas - one idea tends to build on or generate others
- Ease of use
- Identifies a list of ideas in a short period of time.
- No mechanisms for converging ideas (many ideas may be thrown out if not obviously relevant). Good news, convergent thinking is not part of this tool!
- Limits in the capacity to take advantage of individual participant expertise directly
- Introduction of too much chaos unless managed firmly
- Longer problem resolution
- Collection of a large volume of ideas relevant to any enterprise change effort
- Stimulate thinking to maximize participation and contribution without evaluation
- Promote creativity when a project team may be bogged down or unaccustomed to new ways of doing gotomeeting business
- Confirm objective and content of the brainstorming session
- Confirm rules of operation and/or other instructions with participants
- Appoint a scribe to record information, visible to participants
- Conduct session, ensuring all relevant contributions have been made.
- Review contributions for clarification and summarize results
- Plan, and then execute, appropriate next steps
Before starting the session, confirm with participants the following:
- area of focus
- rules of operation
- the guidelines of divergent thinking
Typical conventions for running a session include:
- all contributions are welcome
- everybody contributes
- no criticism
- everyone has the right to pass
Remind participants that the common progression of ideas in brainstorming is that the normal or sensible ideas often come out first, followed by the wild or 'off the wall' ideas. Once those start to slow down, the truly brilliant ideas or solutions seem to follow. You have to go through the wild idea stage to get to the truly brilliant ideas. Encourage all ideas - don't discard or laugh at any ideas proposed. It is when idea generation slows down that some of the most innovative and creative solutions come up.
It is often useful to have one or more scribes documenting the contributions to allow the session moderator or facilitator to focus on managing the session. It is best to use a white board or flip chart so everyone can keep track of the ideas.
Start soliciting ideas. A 'round-robin style' is often useful if participants seem recalcitrant or hesitate getting started. Simply go around the room and solicit one idea from each participant, allowing participants the right to 'pass.' Continue around the room until the ideas begin to run out and then open up for anyone. (Note: This process provides more order and can be helpful if no scribe is available. Otherwise, let the ideas fly!)
Keep the atmosphere relaxed and informal to encourage participation.
- Do not evaluate ideas when stated
- Clarify statements to capture intent, not to analyze
- Build on others' contributions
- Encourage wild ideas
- Define time limits to collect ideas
- If possible, use multiple scribes to document ideas on flip charts, white boards or in a note-taking tool on the scribe's PC that can be projected on the wall for all to see
At the end of the idea generation phase, review the list to remove duplicates. The team should discuss any ideas that are not clear. The result is a list of ideas that address a specific topic.
Tips to restart the thinking process include:
- Use and encourage analogies (" ...How do other companies solve this problem? What have they done in similar situations?...").
- Ask an inverted question ("...How might we achieve the opposite of our corporate goals?... What processes should we do to avoid achieving our objectives?...").
- Personalize through immersion ("...How does this affect your job?...").
Many techniques useful to brainstorming can also be used (see Displayed Thinking
, and Nominal Group Technique
). Lateral Thinking
or other creative thinking techniques can also be used (see Freewriting
, Clustering or Mapping
or other techniques during a brainstorming session.refBrainstorming Techniques
When exploring breakthrough concepts for reengineering/redesign, use brainstorming to generate non-procedural concepts and ideas to provide the foundation in building a new value stream or process. Use the technique to focus the project team on inventing new approaches or a new business philosophy. Recognize that, in using brainstorming for this sub-task, there are implications to consider:
- New approaches often require new work activities and/or processes as well as eliminating activities that are no longer required.
- Differences between old and new philosophies must be understood so that the "sacred cows," or limiting beliefs, of the old approaches can be confronted and challenged.