Brainstorming, a creative tool for problem solving.

Brainstorming
Brainstorming, generating ideas.

How often have you used brainstorming? The chances are that you used at least once even if you didn’t realise it. Brainstorming is a really powerful creative tool, for exploring the landscape of possibilities around a problem. When done in a productive manner, brainstorming can unleash incredible results and solutions. In this article, we will explore relevant aspects that can help you to get the best from it.

Why is brainstorming so important?

Brainstorming is a wonderful tool that allow us to go beyond the obvious first solutions to a problem. With brainstorming, you can create a wave of new fresh ideas and by taking these fresh perspectives, you can create something that people have really never thought about before.  Aim for quantity, try to generate a hundred solutions for every problem that we come up with.

Does that sound too much hard work? The reason for that is: The first few ideas is going to be expected, then they become more interesting and with each wave of new ideas you start pushing the boundaries further and further. For example, if I asked you to come up with 500 flavours of ice cream, the first 50 will be the usual expected, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, rocky road, but after you got through the first 50, maybe even the first 100, then you will start coming up with the things that are really surprising and unique.

Avoid evaluating ideas way too early.

When you’re brainstorming, you are exploring the landscape of possible solutions and at a later time, you will figure out which ideas you will start to actually exploit. If you start evaluating ideas too early. You kill the entire brainstorming process. It is one of the things that happens when you throw out an idea and somebody says: “I don’t like that idea” or “that will never work”.Ideas at this stage are very, very fragile. It is important to accept any idea, no matter how crazy it seems initially. At this stage you are exploring the landscape of ideas and possibilities.

Ask the right question: What problem are we trying to solve?

If you do not frame the problem correctly at the beginning, you really have missed enormous opportunities. One of the important things is to brainstorm around the question before you start brainstorming around the answer. One of the terms used for that is “frame storming”. The idea is to “frame storm” before you brain storm by asking what problem are we really trying to solve?

Who is in the room?

A brainstorm is only as good as the brains in the room. You need to be really thoughtful and get people with really different points of view. A good number is having about five to seven people in a brainstorm, where you can make sure that everybody gets a chance to contribute.

The environment

The environment can have a big impact on the way people think. It’s great to have a space where people can move around and put ideas on the wall while others are stepping back and looking at the board. Make sure is that everybody has post its or sticky notes and everyone has a way to write. If possible, natural light and lots of windows. The higher the ceilings the better. It’s because high ceilings lead to much more lofty thoughts and feelings.

Stand up

Why? There’s a totally different energy when you’re sitting down around a conference table versus standing up, writing on a white board. In fact, it’s best if you’re all looking at the board, instead of looking at each other. The discussion is much more about the ideas then about the people in the room. It is much easier to build on ideas when they are all right in front of you. In fact, one of the most important things of brainstorming is to build on other people’s ideas. That’s where a lot of the magic happens.

At the end of a brainstorming session

When you get to the end of a brainstorming session there’s an urgency to know what are the next steps. What do we do now? At this stage it is important to remember: Who’s in the room? The people in the room are people who came from very different backgrounds and they’re not necessarily the stakeholders nor the decision-makers.

It might be helpful to explain at the beginning at the session that the brainstorm is the exploration stage and after that, there will be an evaluation stage. The people who evaluate the ideas are not necessarily the people who were in the brainstorm. You need to make sure that the people who are there understand that their job is to generate ideas not to pick the ideas to go forward with. A good thing to do is to separate in time and in space, the exploitation stage from the exploration stage.

Final tips to remember:

·      Go for quantity.

·      Defer judgement.

·      Build on the ideas of others (“yes, and…” instead of “no, but…”)

·      Encourage wild ideas.

Sometimes people like to do brainstorming on their own individually first and then coming into a group and sharing those ideas. Other people like it better to come together first and not have that sort of pre thinking going on. This is not a recipe that can’t be changed. Just like there are lots of recipes for chocolate chip cookies. There are lots of recipes for brainstorming and the key is to figure out the recipe that works best for you.

Daniela R Murphy

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