What Is Brainstorming?

Brainstorming is important for college students, writers, and professionals in almost any business. Learn what it is, and how to make brainstorming work for you!

Brainstorming is a method of creative thinking that is used to come up with ideas to solve problems. Have you ever had a tough problem that you couldn't easily come up with a solution for easily? Well you probably did a little brainstorming before you came up with a solution.

Brainstorming is the practice of considering various ideas that will help you solve your puzzle. Many different people from all walks of life use brainstorming on a daily basis. Nearly every profession in the arts requires good brainstorming skills. Whether you are a student, graphic artist, writer, advertising representative, sales representative, or even a CEO, you must learn to brainstorm effectively.

Brainstorming can be done alone or in groups. The term "think-tank" refers to a group that brainstorms. Studies show that group brainstorming is much more productive than doing it alone. The ideas are more imaginative, original and creative when "hatched" in the company of a group of role models. By spending time with other creative minds, we insure that we will always be surrounded by fresh ideas.

If coming up with creative ideas is important for your group, you must not rule out any idea no matter how unusual it may be. While brainstorming, never "shelf" any idea.

Here is a step-by-step guide to group brainstorming:

1. The best way for any group to start a brainstorming session is to sit in a circle and take turns thinking of a solution to the problem at hand. (Someone should be writing these down) To do this, the problem must be defined in very broad terms.

a. If the group wants to think of a new way to package potato chips, the leader of the group should maybe ask the group of ways to wrap things. Ask them how they would wrap presents or care packages. Another example of thinking creatively can be by combining two things that are totally unrelated.

b. If the group was trying to come up with a new advertising campaign for potato chips, maybe they should define the problem as how make a better potato chip or even how a dog feels about potato chips.

2. Keep going around the circle until no one can think of anything new. (It is a good idea to keep a pencil and a pad of paper nearby so that you can write down an idea that you get while it is someone else's turn.)

3. After everyone has exhausted their creativity, start discussing the ideas one by one.

4. Do not discard any idea. (All criticism and evaluation should wait until after the brainstorming session has ended.)

5. After you have discussed every idea, take a fifteen or twenty minute break. Hurrying will hinder creativity. The brain needs time for the incubation of a creative idea.

6. Ask the original question again and begin trying to come up with more new ideas. (Keep in mind that the combining of ideas should be encouraged.)

7. We must remember that the quantity of a multitude of diverse ideas is much more important that the quality of the ideas during a brainstorming session.

8. Explain to the members of the group that the more wild, unusual, and mind boggling the ideas the better!

A day or so after brainstorming, the entire group should go back over the ideas and see if this triggers any new ideas. Many times "sleeping on it" so to speak really helps us to mold our creative ideas. Discuss any new ideas, the combining of ideas, as well as any other kind of creative thought that has struck a member of the group.

When brainstorming alone, many people find that writing the ideas down helps them to remember them. Write about whatever may come to your mind. Do not worry about punctuation and grammar. Just write any and all ideas that pop into your head no matter how silly they seem at the time. This, after all, is how some of the greatest ideas have come into existence.

After ten or fifteen minutes take a break. Return to brainstorming and write down any and all ideas again in the same manner. After you have run out of ideas, start exploring each and every one of them individually. Don't discard any of these thoughts, though. The incubation period is very important for cementing creative ideas, so sleep on it!

After being away from the brainstorming for a day or two, come back to the project. Reread the ideas and see if anything new comes to you. Start brainstorming again. Take a break about fifteen minutes or so. When you feel a bit more relaxed start again. By this time, most people have some really great ideas that present a plausible solution.

Here is a creativity checklist from "The Essentials of Psychology" (seventh edition) by Dennis Coon:

1. Redefine (Considering other uses to guard against a fixation that may block creativity.)

2. Adapt (Asking how could things be changed to aid in the solution of a problem.)

3. Modify (Imagine changing everything)

4. Magnify (Exaggerate everything)

5. Minify (Shrink the problem)

6. Substitute (Try substituting one idea or procedure for another.)

7. Rearrange (Break the problem into pieces like a puzzle and try to put it back together again.)

8. Reverse (Think about everything in opposite orders and terms.)

9. Combine (We already discussed this.)

When we expose a problem to all of these different processes, we will almost ensure that no creative solution can be easily overlooked or forgotten. Use this technique the next time you have a problem. Your solution may just surprise you. Good luck!


The Essentials of Psychology 7th Edition by Dennis Coon

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