How to use it: The key to brainstorming is that once it begins, the process itself stimulates subsequent ideas among participants as they associate with previous ideas.
The meeting leader should clearly state the problem or other need for creative ideas and outline the brainstorming ground rules for the group. Answer any questions the group has before beginning.
The Problem Statement
- needs to be specific enough to help participants focus on the intent of the session, but it must be open enough to allow innovative thinking
- should not be bias so it favors a particular solution or excludes creative ideas
They should include:
- letting the leader have control
- allowing everyone to contribute
- ensuring that no one will insult, demean, or evaluate another participant or his/her response
- stating that no answer is wrong
- recording each answer unless it is a repeat
- setting a time limit and stopping when that time is up
This person needs to write down EVERY idea - clearly and where everyone in the group can see them. Check to ensure the materials provided will allow you to write so everyone in the group can clearly see what you are writing. The scribe could be the same person as the leader. In a larger group it may be beneficial to have one or two of the members serve as scribes freeing you to facilitate the process.
The Brainstorming Process
There are two ways to gather ideas: 1) a “popcorn” approach in which anyone can volunteer an idea at any time; the leader or scribe must write quickly and make sure that all ideas are recorded and 2) a “round-robin” approach in which each person contributes one idea at a time, going in order around the room, “passing” if they have no ideas to contribute. It works well to start with a round-robin approach and move to the popcorn method after you have gone around the room once or twice.
- Generate as many ideas as possible.
- All ideas are recorded, including the wildest, until ideas are exhausted.
- Record ideas generated on a white/black board.
- List all ideas as close to the participant’s wording as possible.
- Ask people with lengthy ideas to shorten them.
- Do not discuss or evaluate ideas at this time.
- Encourage people to develop other people’s ideas, or to use other ideas to create new ones.
- Ensure that no train of thought is followed for too long.
- Do not attach the contributor’s name to the idea.
- Keep the session focused on the problem.
- Try to get everyone to contribute and develop ideas, including the quietest members of the group.
- “pass” if you run out of ideas.
- Encourage an enthusiastic, uncritical attitude among members of the group.
[Criticism introduces an element of risk for group members when putting forward an idea. This stifles creativity and cripples the free running nature of a good brainstorming session.]
This process continues until the “idea stream” slows to a trickle. Once you have finished brainstorming, examine the responses looking for any answers that are repeated or similar. Group link concepts together. Eliminate responses that definitely do not fit. Now that you have narrowed your list down some, discuss the remaining responses as a group. Have the group select the five ideas which they like best. Make sure everyone involved in the brainstorming session is in agreement.
Write down about five criteria for judging which ideas best solve your problem. Criteria should start with the word “should”, for example, “it should be cost effective”, “it should be legal”, “it should be possible to finish before July 14th”, etc.
Lead the group in giving each idea a score of 0 to 5 points depending on how well it meets each
criterion. Once all of the ideas have been scored for each criterion, add up the scores. Establish a consensus if appropriate.
The idea with the highest score will best solve your problem. But you should keep a record of all of your best ideas and their scores in case your best idea turns out not to be workable.
At the end of the brainstorming session, discuss the steps needed to implement the ideas. If this is complicated, do another brainstorming session on how to implement the ideas.
The brainstorming method of generating ideas can be altered if desired. One change would be to have the larger group break off into smaller groups. Each group would participate in a brainstorming session, bringing their top five suggestions back to the main group for discussion. Another method is to have each of the meeting members write an idea on a 3X5 piece of paper, then pass it to the person sitting on their right. Each person in turn would quickly add an idea to build upon the original. If they didn’t have one, they would simply pass the card on. At the end of the session the cards would be discussed for merit.
Don’t use brainstorming when people are tired or at the end of a meeting. Reserve it for when people are fresh and energized. Avoid using brainstorming as the only way to generate material. Overuse of this technique will cause people to devalue it and approach it with less enthusiasm and creativity.
Compiled by Rae Stonehouse