Last month I wrote about Generating Ideas, which is an individual process and I talked about what works for me. In groups the most common technique in generating ideas is brainstorming. It’s a quite old idea, developed by Alex Faickney Osborn in 1939. Based on two principles “Defer judgment” and “Reach for Quantity”, he put 4 rules together to make brainstorming work (partly taken from Wikipedia):

  1. Focus on quantity: The assumption is that the greater the number of ideas generated, the greater the chance of producing an innovative idea.
  2. Withhold criticism: criticism of any idea should be put ‘on hold’. Instead, participants should focus on extending or adding to ideas, reserving criticism for a later phase of the process. His thinking behind this rule was, by suspending judgment, participants will feel free to generate unusual ideas.
  3. Welcome unusual ideas: Unusual ideas can be generated by looking from new perspectives and suspending assumptions. These new ways of thinking may provide better solutions by encouraging thinking outside the box.
  4. Combine and improve ideas: Good ideas may be combined to form a single better good idea, as suggested by the slogan “1+1=3”. This stimulation of idea building is closely aligned to the process of association. More importantly this rule empowers the group to work together and build on each other.

In my experience the 4 rules are essential to make brainstorming work. However, I found that being more precise what is allowed and encouraged helps a new team to understand brainstorming better.

  1. No judging while brainstorming. There are neither stupid nor brilliant ideas at this stage.
  2. Every idea is a good idea. Every idea contributes to finding a solution or discarding a cul-de-sac.
  3. The more ideas the better.
  4. The crazier the better.
  5. No ownership of ideas. Piggy-back if you can!
  6. Record every idea. Use post-it notes, they make sorting and judging easier in the next phase.
  7. Capture each idea as a complete phrase. When you review the brainstorming later, you want to understand the idea and not second guess!
  8. Think outside the box. What are your assumptions? Remove those shackles in a brainstorming session.

Now, once you have a wall full of post-it notes, you need to go through them methodically. The objective is still to come up with a solution to a problem or challenge.

  1. Grouping: The first step is to put those ideas together that have something in common. Mind Mapping is a tool that can help with that.
  2. De-doubling: there ought to be ideas that are the same or have been improved later on. The group must decide if those a valid alternative ideas or double ups. Mark the double-ups with a red sticker and move them to a new group “double ups”
  3. The impossible and improbable: The third step of judging is to identify those ideas that very unlikely be a solution. Mark those with an orange sticker and move them to the improbable group.
  4. Outsiders: If there is a voice that argues hard and believable that any particular idea even an improbable one is actually a very good one, create a new group “outsiders” and mark it blue.
  5. The brilliant ideas: Now let’s search for the ideas we think are best. There ought to be at least one where everybody thinks, yes, that’ll work. Mark those green.

This exercise will provide you with a prioritised list of ideas. Set your team on these to evaluate and investigate the validity in detail.

4 comments on “Brainstorming

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  2. […] Last month I wrote about Generating Ideas, which is an individual process and I talked about what works for me. In groups the most common technique in generating ideas is brainstorming. It’s …  […]

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  4. […] staring at a blank whiteboard doesn’t help either. A spark is necessary. Much is said about Brainstorming as an idea generating stimulus. Not so. Brainstorming works when you have a facilitator and a […]

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