4.2.4 How to Brainstorm?

The most basic form of brainstorm is to gather a group of people into a room.  The size of the group can vary between 4 to 20 people.  A chairperson or facilitator co-ordinates the session and a scribe can also be used to write down the ideas generated.  The facilitator introduces all the participants and the reason for the brainstorming session; he/she outlines the rules and encourages everyone to participate.  Brainstorming sessions can last for 15 minutes or up to half a day depending on the content and the situation.  Brainstorming can also become a regular feature in team and management meetings.

There are four basic rules in brainstorming.1 „These are intended to reduce the social inhibitions that occur in groups and therefore stimulate the generation of new ideas. The expected result is a dynamic synergy that will dramatically increase the creativity of the group“.2

  • No criticism: During the idea generation session ideas should be allowed to flow freely and should not be criticised, instead of looking at what is wrong with them participants should look at expanding or adding to them.  Criticism should be held until the evaluation stage where the ideas can be analysed in more dept.
  • Focus on quantity: The idea is to get as many suggestions as you can during the session, where quantity should lead to quality.  It may take a little time to evaluate all ideas but it should be worth it in the end.  “The assumption is that the greater the number of ideas generated, the greater the chance of producing a radical and effective solution“.3
  • Unusual ideas are welcome: No idea is too stupid or crazy!  “They may open new ways of thinking and provide better solutions than regular ideas. They can be generated by looking from another perspective or setting aside assumptions".4
  • Combine and improve ideas: “Good ideas can be combined to form a single very good idea, as suggested by the slogan "1+1=3". This approach is assumed to lead to better and more complete ideas than merely generating new ideas alone. It is believed to stimulate the building of ideas by a process of association“.5

It is also important to watch the clock, record your progress and keep it fun and creative.

Have you ever taken part in a brainstorming session?  Were the four basic rules respected?

Osborn6 suggests that when a group of people meet to have a brainstorming session that the facilitator should make everyone aware of the four basic rules. He says that each facilitator should interpret the rules and explain them to suit the group. An example of one way that a facilitator could interpret the first rule is:

„If you try to get hot and cold water out of the same faucet at the same time, you will get only tepid water. And if you try to criticise and create at the same time, you can’t turn on either the cold enough criticism or the hot enough ideas. So let’s stick solely to ideas and let’s cut out all criticism during this session“. (Osborn, 1948)

Mind Maps are a very powerful tool to use in a brainstorming session. A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radically around a central key word or idea . Mind maps can be either hand-written on a flip chart/whiteboard or using mind map software and give a much clearer overview of the ideas generated. Mind maps can be used during the session or at the evaluation stage to group and consolidate ideas.

The following mind map describes how to run an effective brainstorming session.

  Figure 1: Mindmap - Overview of Brainstorming Session

And now let’s have a look at the following Flash presentation which explains the stages of brainstorming in more detail, how to prepare the session, how to select participants, the rules of brainstorming and how to call for and evaluate ideas.

1 Osborn, A.F. (1963) Applied imagination: Principles and procedures of creative problem solving.
Osborn, A.F. (1963) Applied imagination: Principles and procedures of creative problem solving.