Brainstorming can be defined as the process of thinking out of the box in order to solve any allegedly impossible problems. It is the method that may help find wonderful, original ideas. How, for instance, did Apple come to their success? Initially, Steve Wozniak had to ‘think it, plan it’ and then when Steve Jobs came in finally, ‘do it’. Indeed, this might have been their adagio and for we know it has been no magic. However, when you are stuck, not knowing what comes next, some brainstorming techniques may work wonders. There are many situations in which individuals or groups of people turn to brainstorm: for a new idea; a problem needs to be solved; a need for higher creative thinking has occurred; and finally, a team needs to improve working together.
Whether you are on your own or part of a team, consider brainstorming on a regular basis. Still – in a nutshell, there may be a disadvantage to the traditional group brainstorming the way BBDO’s Alex Osborn introduced it in his 1942 book ‘How To Think Up’.
Brainstorming as a group
Group brainstorming has become the standard for teams trying to solve their problems. For sure, it avoids that everyone comes up with the same ideas while each team member can build on the ideas of the others. But there are authors, who believe there is a major flaw to this. Notably: the talking. Novices are less likely to voice their ideas out of angst; laggards tend to sit back while others do the thinking; then there are those who succumb to peer-pressure; top talent tends to minimise their contribution to the group level.
A silent brainstorm may work around the mentioned issues associated with group sessions. Everyone’s ideas get out in the open, allowing quieter voices to be heard. Each team member – four to seven people works best, receives a sheet of paper and five minutes to write down up to five solutions to the problem. The pages are then passed through and while the process is repeated the next participant can freely associate on their neighbour’s ideas; this may undercut that anyone’s ideas will not go further than their own experience. An alternative approach is when each team member generates ideas in silence. They write their ideas down on Post-its, which they stick on a whiteboard so that they are readable for the other group members.
Brainstorming on your own
Creativity and transcendence have long been associated with isolation. “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible,” Picasso once said. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative in privacy when they can escape from interruption – solitude is the catalyst to innovation. Individuals perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and the group performance gets worse when the group size increases. The one exception to this is electronic brainstorming. The protection of the screen mitigates many of the problems of group brainstorming; this is why the internet has yielded creations from companies such as CISCO, Netflix, and IKEA. The web is a place where someone can be alone while being together, a place where large groups outperform individuals. The larger the group is the better.
Some Brainstorming Techniques
Brainstorming techniques can take a few basic approaches. Once you have understood how they function, you can match them for better results.
Word Storm & Word Association
You start with a couple of words based on your project and write down any word that comes to mind. Then, based on how well these words go together, they are grouped. According to the defined categories, new associations can come up.
Word associations work better to get the creativity flowing. The goal is to find those “hidden” treasures, which do not come to mind immediately, that people associate with a topic. You do not want to bother with over-thinking how words are related.
Ask Questions & Break Things Down
Clarify the business problem or opportunity you are trying to address. Start with questioning established routines such as why an SBU is still needed or if a segment remains relevant, then continue identifying all these issues to find the best solution.
Before approaching a new strategy, state the problem, give it enough practical evidence, list as many as possible solutions to each option, talk together about the solutions to see if they make any sense then turn them into executable tasks.
Identify the Goal & Apply Structure
Establish your goals at the beginning of the session because brainstorming new approaches can end up in fruitless anecdotes. By keeping focus (“We are here to …”), you can always get back on track and by allocating time the urgency to stay focused on the end goal will increase.
Brainstorm toward measurable outcomes. Hence, without structure, it can leave participants searching for a clear direction, therefore, identify the topics that need to be discussed and apply time limits to avoid diversions.
1. Cube-out a topic (from six angles): What is it? What is it like? With what is it associated? Of what is it made? How is it used? What supports or opposes it?
2. Change the perspective: How would your rival do it, or an infant?
3. A fresh set of eyes compel: It can take a newcomer to recognize things that can be improved.
4. Incubate further ideas: Let everyone write down the ideas which come up after a successful brainstorm.
To conclude, there are several approaches to brainstorming, which you can match for the best results. Give brainstorming a chance.