What is it?
Brainstorming is the general term used for idea generation, and within a brainstorming session you can incorporate some other tools such as Fresh eyes and That’s impossible!
When to use it?
Brainstorming can be used at any time when new solutions to an identified problem are needed
To avoid making knee jerk reactions to issues, try doing a brainstorming exercise to help achieve a better solution
Brainstorming can be used in normal meetings and doesn’t need anything complex or special to be effective
Running a Brainstorming Session
How to use it
The most important thing to make a brainstorming exercise effective is to follow the five key rules of brainstorming:
- Criticism is ruled out – there are no bad ideas at this point
- Go for quantity – don’t settle for three or four ideas – aim for 10 to 20
- Encourage wild ideas – they often provide breakthrough insights
- Build on the ideas of others – what can you add? What other ideas does it bring to mind?
- One conversation at a time
When planning and running a brainstorming session:
It helps if you have access to the right kit: flip charts, sticky notes and pens. Think about whether you have the right people in the room; if key people are missing you can still carry on but you need to make sure to include them later on
Define the purpose of the brainstorming session
What is the problem or opportunity? Write up a statement describing it, but be careful not to infer a solution within the problem statement as this will hinder the effectiveness of the idea generation
- Brainstorming is an active exercise, so encourage people to stand up, shift position and move around
- Speed is important and people should not get bogged down
- People should call out ideas spontaneously with no discussion at this point
- Go for quantity, you should aim for at least 20–30 ideas in five minutes
- Get everybody’s ideas down on paper as they are called out – use Sticky notes as they can be sorted and grouped later on
- Encourage 100% participation
Agree on what to do with the ideas your group has generated. There are many different techniques to help you do this, one of the simplest and most effective is ‘dot voting’ where everyone has a specific number of dots to select their favorite ideas against different criteria. Other tools that can help are bulletproofing, Six Thinking Hats® or affinity diagrams See plan, do, study, act (PDSA)
It may help to agree to test out several ideas if appropriate. By doing some rapid small scale tests of change, as a way of deciding where to focus your efforts. You can use brainstorming at any stage of a project or meeting.
It is possible to generate a lot of ideas in a really short time
Nominate someone to keep an eye on the time and make sure the rules are obeyed and to ensure that participants feel comfortable and join in
When working with a larger group, consider:
- Planning specific sessions to work on particular issues
- Displaying the five rules of brainstorming as a reference
- Having a brief warm-up on an unrelated, fun topic to get creative juices flowing and help establish a less restrictive mood
- Start the main topic when the right mood has been established
- Allow time afterward to go through the ideas generated
- Encouraging people to have ideas by using different tools and techniques within the brainstorming session
- If a solution has already been pre-determined or if you already have several solutions and you need to decide which one to use, use a different approach such as bulletproofing, or Six Thinking Hats®