The Basics of Brainstorming

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Brainstorming is the “Process for generating creative ideas and solutions through intensive and freewheeling group discussion.” It is a way of generating ideas through intensive sessions performed either individually or in a group. For individuals, the process is simple—sit down and focus on trying to think up ideas. The group setting is usually more complicated and structured; it is also the most common brainstorming practice in business. Obviously, brainstorming as a group has more advantages than going it alone. By focusing more than one person on developing ideas, different perspectives of the problem at hand are brought to the table. It also increases the odds that someone will suggest the best solution to the problem.

The process of brainstorming is simple and easy to do. The group comes together to focus on a problem or a topic. Each person contributes his or her ideas, and the group leader takes them down to generate a list of ideas. An important aspect of brainstorming is that the participants are encouraged to think outside the box. All ideas are added to the list and are not judged. In fact, there are no bad ideas as long as everyone’s suggestions are focused on the topic or problem at hand. After all ideas are presented and added to the list, the group moves to the evaluation phase. During this process, the group systematically goes through the list of ideas, and removes the ones that are unsuitable. When they are finished, they are left with the best ideas, which are then evaluated to narrow it down to the best of all.

Keep the following suggestions in mind to ensure a successful brainstorming session:

  • Make It Fun. If you’re brainstorming in a group, making it a fun experience creates an environment where all participants feel safe to share ideas, knowing there is no judgment. Including some game elements can make it easier for everyone as well. Assign a group leader who will direct the session. This person can encourage quieter group members to participate and share, enforce the session’s time limit, and ensure the session stays on track.
  • Stay Focused. This point cannot be emphasized enough. While there is no such thing as a bad idea during brainstorming session, every idea presented must be on target. The leader is responsible for keeping the session focused on the specific problem being discussed. Participants must clearly understand the outcome expected from the ideas generated during the session.
  • Hold the Session in a Good Venue. The environment for a brainstorming session has a huge impact on its success. Choose a comfortable location with few distractions for the session; it will help the participants stay focused (see bullet #1) and stimulate their creativity.
  • Set the Ground Rules. Make sure the structure of the session is clear to everyone involved. State the reason for the brainstorming session at the beginning. It is true that everyone involved will probably know this already. However, stating it again at the top of the meeting again is a good refresher and ensures that everyone is on the same page and ready to go.
  • Set Time Limits. Set time limits to your brainstorming sessions or parts of your sessions. Having time limits helps the group leader to maintain everyone’s focus, and it applies a bit of pressure. When participants know they only have a limited time, it prevents them from over-thinking as they generate ideas.
  • Take Short Breaks. A good way to keep focus and not burn out is to take many breaks. Take short breaks to change your environment, move around, get your mind off the issue momentarily, etc. Everyone will come back to the session refreshed and ready to let the ideas flow.

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Learning Activity:

Think about brainstorming sessions you’ve had in the past or those you’ve participated in recently. What were the successes and failures of the session? Did it give you the idea you were looking for? Why or why not?

The Evaluation Phase – What to Do with Your Brainstorming Ideas

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A brainstorming session will generate ideas. In the following chapters, you’ll learn some brainstorming methods you can use. But you’ll also need to know what to do with the ideas your brainstorm generates. The purpose of brainstorming isn’t just to list ideas, but to bounce these ideas off each other. There needs to be feedback and a selection process to narrow your list down and select only the right ones.

The first step is to decide how many ideas you need to generate. If you’re trying to find one specific solution to one specific business problem, obviously you need to choose only the best idea. If, however, you’re brainstorming a list of topics for blog posts, the selection process may not be so involved. You can hold on to the ideas you come up with for later if you don’t use them right away.

Evaluating Your Ideas

Before beginning your brainstorm, decide how many ideas you need. You may need only one, but decide to select a handful for a post-brainstorm feedback and evaluation session. This session will give the members (or you if it’s an individual undertaking) a chance to discuss the top 5 or however many you choose. You might also keep a few of the runners-up as backups or “Plan B” if the idea you choose runs into trouble.

You should evaluate your ideas based on a few criteria. The most important is how appropriate the idea is to your goal; in other words, how suitably does it solve the problem.

Another important factor is feasibility. In brainstorming, thinking outside the box is always stressed. But if you think too far outside the box, the ideas you come up with will be impossible to carry out.

You may want to carry out some research as part of the evaluation process. If you’re trying to come up with something unique and original, you may take each idea and Google search it to see if someone has beaten you to it. If it’s a problem many businesses face, you may want to research your competitors or other businesses to see how they handle it.

Building on Existing Ideas

You should look for ways to build on existing ideas. A few ways to do this might include:

  • Having members of the group take other members’ ideas and add something new to them or suggest changes.
  • Taking old ideas and adding a new twist to them.
  • Combining two ideas into one.
  • Separating an idea into its parts.

When brainstorming, your ideas don’t need to be set in stone. Keep in mind that in addition to generating new ideas, you can also alter the ideas you already have.

Keep this chapter and the last chapter in mind as you try out the brainstorming techniques on the following pages. There will be 7 brainstorming techniques explained. You may not find all of them useful, but it’s a good idea to try each and see if it works for you. You can add those that produce results to your business operations.

 

 

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