Brainstorming Techniques

Brainstorming techniques are being taught by many business teachers are seminar leaders. Learn how for free.

Brainstorming is a powerful tool used by teams and businesses around the world. Many business teachers and seminar leaders are teaching using brainstorming techniques. The following are some activities that either trainers or teachers can use to help lead their participants in more productive brainstorming sessions.

The concept was first introduced by Alex Osborne in the 1930s. It is a tool for generating ideas. It is an activity in which all members of a group (whether it be a work team, classroom, committee, etc.) contribute to a list of problems to be solved or solutions to a problem. Brainstorming helps get a lot of ideas into discussion in a short amount of time. Brainstorming may look unstructured, but to be effective, there should be some ground rules. These can include:

- Set a time limit on the brainstorming session.

- Don't let participants get sidetracked. Now is not the time to critique ideas that are being suggested.

- Be sure that everyone speaks freely.

- Be sure everyone contributes.

- Let the participants, not the leader, do the talking.

Elaine Beich, in The ASTD Trainer's Sourcebook: Creativity & Innovation suggests these similar rules:

1. Suspend judgement.

2. Encourage freewheeling

3. Quantity is wanted.

4. Piggyback ideas onto other ideas.

5. Post all ideas as you go.

6. Ask for clarification, but avoid questions such as ¡§how¡¨ and ¡§why.¡¨

7. Allow enough time.

8. Encourage playfulness and humor.

9. Assign a facilitator and a recorder.

Here are some additional brainstorming activities that can be adapted to many different subjects:

Basic Brainstorming

Write a question, challenge, or topic on a flip chart or chalkboard. Ask participants for their input and recognize people through the traditional raising of hands. List every idea offered on the flip chart or chalkboard.

Brainstorming with Guidelines

Divide participants into four groups. Assemble groups at far ends of the room so they won¡¦t overhear each other during the activity. Ask each group to choose a spokesperson who will act as a leader and write down all ideas generated by the group.

Meet with each group spokesperson separately. Tell the spokespeople from two of the groups to ¡§Brainstorm uses for a paperclip.¡¨ Give these groups as little guidance as possible. Give the spokespeople from the other two groups a copy of a sheet of paper that has the following information:

Brainstorm new uses for a paper clip. Follow these guidelines during your brainstorming session:

- Don't let group members get sidetracked in whether the ideas are good or bad.

- Get participation from all group members.

- Let group members do the talking.

- Encourage group members to speak their minds freely.

Tell all of the group representatives to start their brainstorming sessions with their groups. Allow ten minutes for the sessions. Tell groups they were assigned the same topics, but that two of the groups were told to follow ground rules during their session. Compare the number of ideas generated by the groups that didn¡¦t have ground rules to follow to the groups that did. Did either group seem to generate more ideas? Did the groups without ground rules get sidetracked in discussions of whether the ideas were good enough to include on their list? Discuss how having ground rules during a brainstorming session helps to keep the session focused and effective.

Paired Brainstorming

Divide participants into pairs. Have each person offer a ¡§rapid-fire¡¨ response. Have them keep giving answers back and forth¡Xeven if they get off track¡Xuntil neither can think of anything further.

Plan-Ahead Brainstorming

Send out a statement of the problem or challenge to participants a few days before the brainstorming session. Ask them to bring ideas with them.

Facilitating Brainstorming

If you are facilitating a brainstorming session, be prepared to offer ideas that will help stimulate participants if they get stuck or start looking at the challenge from only one perspective. When ideas start to slow, push them to generate "x" more ideas. Or, tell them you want them to generate as many ideas as possible in "x" minutes.

Writing it Down

Before verbal brainstorming begins, have each participant write ideas down on paper or index cards. Then collect all of the ideas and redistribute them. It doesn't matter if participants get their own ideas. Taking turns, have each person read the idea they were given. This allows the ideas to be presented anonymously and may allow some ideas to come up that participants might otherwise be uncomfortable presenting. When all the ideas have been read, begin team brainstorming.

Add an Idea

Give each participant a stack of index cards. Have each person write their idea and then pass the card to the left. When the participant gets a new card, he or she should read it, write another idea, and then pass the card to the left. This continues until each card has passed to each person. If a person can't think of an idea, he or she should write a question and other people can start answering it. Rounds are slower in this form of brainstorming because people need more time to read ideas and answer questions. The facilitator then collects all the cards and sorts them into categories.

Some experts suggest having participants look through the stack of cards and share the most creative, most practical, the one that everyone could do, the zaniest one, etc.

Keep in mind that brainstorming is only the first third of a problem-solving process. It generates the ideas. It is now up to the participants and team leader to organize the ideas and determine what to do with each one.

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