Just as the name suggests, brainstorming is using one’s brain to storm a problem with a horde of creative solutions. It’s a technique used for idea generation and to spark creativity. Typically individuals or teams will conduct a brainstorm at the beginning of projects as a way to find innovative solutions to current problems, but you can incorporate this technique whenever the need for new ideas arises. While brainstorming is normally used in groups, it is also a great tool for individuals to use when working on personal goals and projects, such as deciding what to write about or your next craft project.
By contrast, brainstorming provides a free and open environment that encourages everyone to participate. Quirky ideas are welcomed and built upon, and all participants are encouraged to contribute fully, helping them develop a rich array of creative solutions. When used during problem solving, brainstorming brings team members' diverse experience into play. It increases the richness of ideas explored, which means that you can often find better solutions to the problems that you face.
There are two types of brainstorming, Individual brainstorming and Group brainstorming.
Individual brainstorming- When you brainstorm on your own, you don't have to worry about other people's egos or opinions, and you can be freer and more creative. For example, you might find that an idea you'd hesitate to bring up in a group develops into something special when you explore it on your own. However, you may not develop ideas as fully when you're on your own, because you don't have the wider experience of other group members to draw on. Individual brainstorming is most effective when you need to solve a simple problem, generate a list of ideas, or focus on a broad issue. Group brainstorming is often more effective for solving complex problems.
Group brainstorming- In group brainstorming, you can take advantage of the full experience and creativity of all team members. When one member gets stuck with an idea, another member's creativity and experience can take the idea to the next stage. You can develop ideas in greater depth with group brainstorming than you can with individual brainstorming. Where possible, participants should come from a wide range of disciplines. This cross-section of experience can make the session more creative. However, don't make the group too big: as with other types of teamwork, groups of five to seven people are usually most effective.
Brainstorming didn’t just happen overnight. Advertising executive Alex Osborn first coined the term in 1941 when he found that traditional business meetings weren’t the ideal setting to share new ideas. He wanted a way to give people the freedom to think outside of the box without fear of criticism.
There were two principles Osborn claimed improved “ideative efficacy”: avoid criticism and quantity over quality. For Osborn, brainstorming should be used to resolve a particular problem or goal. Brainstorming without an end in mind may lead to working away from the goal or solution. Whether you are brainstorming on your own for personal projects and goals or working as a part of a team, Osborn’s original strategy is fundamental to becoming an idea machine.
1. Focus on quantity- Rather than trying to think of one grand idea, work toward quantity to come up with as many ideas as possible. This method will give you more options to choose from and can inspire others to think
of new ideas. Not every idea is going to be great, but one bad idea may lead to several good ones. In the end, the more ideas shared, the more likely it is that there will be more useful ideas to work from.
2. Withhold criticism- Negativity has no place in a brainstorming session. Removing criticism from the equation creates an environment to freely share thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment for it being considered “wrong” or “stupid.” When people no longer fear criticism, they are more likely to not only share more ideas but share fun and ridiculous ideas. Unusual ideas are key to brainstorming and need to be heard.
3. Welcome unusual ideas- Encourage every idea to be expressed, no matter how bizarre. Unique, unusual, and even eccentric ideas, while not always feasible, can spark innovative solutions that you haven’t thought of previously. Welcoming unconventionality to a brainstorm session promotes an open space for creativity, and adds to the number of ideas shared.
4. Combine and improve ideas- Build on ideas. Combine concepts to create new solutions. Evaluate each idea to determine which are feasible, innovative, and best suited to accomplish your goal. Piggyback on those ideas, suggest improvements or similar alternatives. Building on the ideas shared will help find the best solution to the goal or problem.
This interesting style of brainstorming was developed in 1992 and involves teammates sharing their ideas individually before being influenced by the group. The process starts with a facilitator posing a question or problem to the entire group and then having almost every group member exit the room, leaving two members present. These remaining two members share their ideas together while the rest of the team waits outside, until the facilitator directs an outside teammate to join the two inside. The third and new teammate then shares their idea first, followed by the other two teammates. A fourth group member then enters the room and shares his or her idea first, followed by the other teammates present. The process continues this way until all group members have joined the room and shared their ideas.
Most brainstorming techniques ask participants to solve a problem. Reverse brainstorming has participants cause a problem. Rather than forming solutions to a problem, reverse brainstorming has a facilitator ask a question like “How can we cause this problem?” Responses are then recorded and used as springboards to ideate a solution by working through the responses backwards. Reverse brainstorming is a powerful way to open up new solutions to recurring problems: By challenging participants to work backwards, certain insights that may have been hard to imagine normally become crystal clear from a new perspective.
Sometimes it’s best to consider someone else’s point of view. Considering how someone else might approach a challenge is the central concept behind rolestorming. A related practice, figure storming asks you to put yourself in the shoes of a famous historical figure. For example, a legal advocacy group might have teammates ask “How would Mahatma Gandhi solve this problem?” Rolestorming has even made its way into pop culture: Anyone who has ever purchased or even seen the popular rubber WWJD (what would Jesus do?) bracelets has witnessed rolestorming in daily life. Rolestorming or figure storming works best for teams who find themselves coming up with the same ideas for repeating projects.
When brainwriting, each group member is told to anonymously write down several ideas on post-it notes or index cards. Keeping ideas anonymous serves two important purposes: First, it prevents idea anchoring and any personality bias that may arise. Second, it provides a way for more introverted teammates to still contribute to ideation. The result is a broader range of ideas that may not have surfaced if teammates were to brainstorm collectively. Ideas are then shared at random with the rest of the group, who offer feedback and critique each idea. As an alternative, ideas can also be collected and sorted by a team leader or management team. The overlying goal of brainwriting is to separate idea generation from discussion.