“It is easier to tone a wild idea than to think up a new one.” – Alex Osborn
Brainstorming is an idea-generating process that helps teams find solutions to clearly designed problems. It is a way for people to spontaneously discuss their ideas without judgment. Doing so allows the team to produce a large number of ideas, find connections between them, and create potential solutions.
Brainstorming is the art of the ideation phase of Design Thinking. The main benefit is that it allows teams to expand in all directions imaginable. While there are rules (more on these later) to keep the team focused on the problem statement, and a facilitator to keep them on track, participants are free to use out of the box thinking to come up with the most effective solutions to the problem. Alex Osborn, the “inventor” of brainstorming, recognized that with a better approach to ideation, we could go beyond exploring conventional solutions with the associated challenges and obstacles. By building on the ideas of others in the room, we cover the problem from every angle imaginable.
Brainstorming may seem to lack constraints, yet everyone must observe ten rules and have someone acting as a facilitator.
- Set a time limit. Depending on the problem’s complexity, 15-60 minutes is standard.
- Begin with a target problem. The team should approach this sharply defined question, goal, or plan and stay focused on the topic.
- Defer Judgement. No one should be negative (body language included) about any idea.
- Encourage weird, wacky, and wild ideas. Avoid killer phrases such as “too expensive” to keep the gates open for everyone to feel free to share their thoughts.
- Aim for quantity. The more ideas you have, the better the solution you will have. The process of sorting ideas comes later.
- Build on the ideas of others. It is a process of associating each other’s ideas where the team expands on the notions of others to reach new insights. It is good to encourage “and” rather than discourage “but” to get ideas closer to the solution.
- Stay visual. Sketches, drawings, diagrams, and Post-Its bring ideas to life and help others better understand your concepts and see things in a different light.
- Allow one conversation at a time. To achieve optimal results, it is essential to keep the conversation on track, thus showing respect for everyone’s ideas.
- Transference from other industries. Do not limit your brainstorming to the confines of familiar industries. Other disciplines can provide unexpected paths into new, creative solutions.
- Set a safe environment. To make sure everyone is heard, the facilitator needs to follow these rules for the best results.
Of course, there is an unwritten rule, and that is to have fun. This is the place to let your imagination run, and your ideas fly.
There are two ways to capture all the ideas. The first is to have a scribe who will write every idea on a board. A preferred method is to have everyone write their ideas on Post-Its and place them on the board (making the ideas easier to sort and structure).
Brainstorming has evolved over the years, but Osborn’s four basic principles still stand as the foundation for running your sessions:
- Quantity over quality. The idea is that quantity will eventually breed quality as ideas are refined, merged, and developed further.
- Withhold criticism. Team members should be free to introduce any and all ideas they can think of. Save the feedback until all ideas are collected so that “blocking” does not occur.
- Welcome crazy ideas. Encouraging your team to imagine possible solutions and introduce pie in the sky ideas allows for new and innovative techniques that may lead to success.
- Combine, refine, and improve ideas. Build on ideas and draw connections between two different suggestions to further the problem-solving process.
There are many advantages to brainstorming. Brainstorming allows people to think more freely without fear of judgment. It encourages open and ongoing collaboration to solve problems and generates innovative solutions. Brainstorming helps teams create a lot of ideas quickly, which can then be merged and refined to create an ideal solution.
Brainstorming is also a great team-building activity because no one has ownership of the idea, leading full team effort. It allows teams to reach a consensus, leading to a better-informed path forward. Team members feel more comfortable sharing ideas even outside of a structured session. Brainstorming introduces different perspectives opening the door to innovation.
The core advantages of brainstorming are its ability to unlock collaborative creativity. It is an excellent technique for bringing a team together to generate novel and exciting ideas that can take your business to the next level.
Finally, thank everyone who attends at the end of the brainstorming session. Even if their ideas do not go anywhere, you want to acknowledge their input and note that you can see how their approach might work. While it might not work this time, the next idea they come up with could, but you need to make them feel like a part of the process.
How to sort the ideas will be part of a later post. Now, start brainstorming–and thrive.
If you need help facilitating a brainstorming session, contact us, we are here to help you collect your ideas.