Brainstorming

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Brainstorming definition - ToolsHero

This article describes the concept of Brainstorming in a practical way. After reading you will understand the definition, meaning and basics of this powerful creativity tool.

What is definition of Brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a method of effectively using brains to storm the problem. The goal is to develop as many ideas as possible in the shortest possible time to solve a predefined problem. It is not so much about going into detail about the ideas or choosing one of them.

Advertising tycoon Alex Faickney Osborn is the ‘inventor’ of brainstorming. He was one of the first to put it in practice and labelled it ‘brainstorming’. Osborn is one of the founders of BBDO, a world-famous New York advertising agency. The advertising world is an environment where creative ideas are of great importance.

Application of Brainstorming

Brainstorming is an instrument that is applied in many organisations in order to generate as many ideas as possible within a team. The emphasis is only on the quantity of the presented ideas and not so much on the quality. For the sake of effectiveness, it is good to have the group consist of at least five and up to fifteen people. The composition of the group also needs proper attention. It is important that there is a variety of knowledge, experience and backgrounds, which will allow all participants to provide a contribution from different perspectives.

This is usually used in the beginning stages of a project, when the possibilities for the project have not yet been clearly defined. It is also a very useful way to come up with creative ideas in product development or production methods. Advertising and marketing objectives are also a popular application. The process provides a fast way to stimulate a group’s creativity. Brainstorming encourages participants to come up with unconventional ideas and creativity. All contributions are welcome and can lead to a great diversity of ideas.

It is important that there is a clearly defined question or problem beforehand, where the participants can focus their attention on. Brainstorming is less effective for problems that are difficult to describe or complex, or for problems that require thorough specialised knowledge.

Rules of the game

The most important rule when brainstorming is the ‘postponement of judgement’. Criticism (and even positive feedback) on the ideas of others is not allowed. All ideas are welcome; from common to far-fetched ideas, from obvious to absurd ideas and from impossible to clever ideas. It is about collecting as wide a variety of options as possible. As soon as criticism is expressed, this hinders free thinking and discourages participants form contributing, while instead they should be motivating each other. The spontaneity must not be hindered. The environment needs to be pleasant and everyone needs to feel safe to contribute.

These rules are not meant to limit, but to give space and remove all barriers, in order to allow for free thinking. Below you will find several more rules of the game.

  1. Postpone judgement – all ideas are good, are accepted and written down; criticism can wait until later;
  2. Focus on quantity – strive to gather as many ideas as possible, every idea is welcome;
  3. Freewheel – feel free to jump from one idea to the next and think out loud;
  4. Hitchhike – hitchhike on another person’s ideas and apply synergy; complement each other by continuing to work on what the other says and working towards surprising solutions.

Brainstorming Process

Brainstorming takes place in a brainstorm session, a gathering where the participants stimulate and motivate each other to generate a great amount of ideas. The session starts with a good, concrete, simple question or problem. Only this way, can everyone focus on the ideas that answer the question or the problem. Preferably, the brainstorm session is facilitated by a group leader or chairman. Taking notes is almost impossible, so the use of a voice recorder is recommended. A brainstorm session includes various phases:

1. Preparation

The differentiated brainstorm group is determined and consists of 5 to 15 laymen and experts. The group is told in advance what the question or problem definition is, when the brainstorming session takes place and how long it will take. One and a half hours is often seen as the maximum given the intensive nature of this type of meeting. The chairman / discussion leader prepares the required materials for the process, including flip chart, pens, paper, sticky notes, etc.

2. Generate ideas

All ideas are written on whiteboard, flip chart, paper or sticky notes and gathered by the chairman / conversation leader. He also ensures that everyone gets to speak and that no criticism is expressed about each other’s ideas. The chairman ensures that the atmosphere is productive, creative and relaxed. Following this so-called divergence phase, the convergence phase follows, in which all the different ideas are clustered to related subjects.

3. Evaluation

In general, the systematic evaluation of all proposed ideas takes plays after the brainstorming session is over. You can choose to do this part with the same participants or with a smaller group of representative professional experts. For each topic, you evaluate the usefulness of the ideas, the pros and cons and compare them to each other. Prioritisation also often takes place and ideas that can contribute right away (low-hanging fruit), are given the highest priority. By filtering the best and most useful ideas, you gradually go from quantity to quality.

Creativity

Brainstorming is not just about discussing and exchanging ideas, but it is a method for developing more creative ideas more quickly. Creativity is definitely not just for writers and artists. Everyone is naturally creative and can learn to better use his creative skills better. Psychological research has shown that there are several ways to stimulate creativity:

1. Remember ideas

Pen and paper are an easy and convenient tool for this. Ideas can come in the craziest moments and it is best to write them down right away. That can be key words, short sentences or drawings.

2. Challenge yourself

Doing something that is just outside your comfort zone stimulates new ideas. The pressure of a new challenge encourages the brain to look for creative solutions that can also have a positive effect in other situations.

3. Widen knowledge and skills

Creativity is the result of applying knowledge and skills in new situations. New skills are learned by attending training seminars or workshops, reading the literature etc. By staying active and being open to new insights, you stimulate the brain to reproduce that at a later time in the form of creativity.

4. Stimuli

An environment with stimuli promotes creativity. By changing stimuli regularly, they continue to provide impulses for the brain. Classical music during work is one example, or a funny photo to look at or reading daily blogs. It might look like a distraction, but it is a great source of creativity.

Now it’s Your Turn

What do you think? What is your experience with Brainstorming and Brainstorming techniques? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for good problem solving?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Kaptein, A. (2014). Ultimate Brainstorming: The Facilitator’s Toolbox to Great Brainstorming. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
  2. Parnes, S. J., & Meadow, A. (1959). Effects of” brainstorming” instructions on creative problem solving by trained and untrained subjects. Journal of Educational Psychology, 50(4), 171.
  3. Rawlinson, J. G. (2017). Creative thinking and brainstorming. Routledge.
  4. Sutton, R. I., & Hargadon, A. (1996). Brainstorming groups in context: Effectiveness in a product design firm. Administrative Science Quarterly, 685-718.

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Patty Mulder
Patty Mulder is an Dutch expert on Management Skills, Time Management, Personal Effectiveness and Business Communication. She is also a Content writer, Business Coach and Company Trainer and lives in the Netherlands (Europe).

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