Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Brainstorming Techniques That Work

Brainstorming is by far the most widely used tool to stimulate creative thinking. It was developed in the 1940s by the American advertising executive Alex Osborn who believed that anyone could learn to generate creative solutions for a wide variety of problems. Following Osborn’s beliefs, below are some tips that will help you have brainstorming sessions that generate results

1.When scheduling the meeting, be sure to include a brief explanation of the problem and its history. This will help participants prepare mentally for the session and focus on the particular issue. The more specific and focused a session, the better the results will be.

2.When inviting individuals to the session, consider people with different backgrounds and degrees of expertise. Sometimes a fresh outlook comes from someone who isn't considered an expert or close to the problem. However, be careful about mixing management levels. Often in the presence of a senior-level manager, people either will be reluctant to participate or will completely overdo it.

3.Distribute a copy of the rules of brainstorming before the session begins. The rules are:

  • Criticism of ideas isn't allowed
  • All ideas, no matter how wild, are encouraged
  • The more ideas, the better
  • Every participant should try to build on or combine the ideas of others

4.When scheduling the brainstorming session, the meeting shouldn't last longer than 30 or 40 minutes. Brainstorming sessions can be tiring and if you haven’t discovered a satisfactory idea after 40 minutes then it’s best to adjourn the meeting. Let the participants leave with the understanding that there will be another session. They can think about the problem because great ideas can come anytime and anywhere – in the shower, in the car or in the park.

5.At the beginning of the session, explain the meaning of Killer Phrases and emphasize that they won’t be permitted. You might provide two cards for each participant as they enter the room. One has a green circle on it, the other a red circle. Like traffic lights, when the flow of ideas is positive, participants hold up the green cards. If someone mentions a Killer Phrase, all of the other participants must hold up the red cards. This helps the group identify its "killer" behavior and lets participants know when they should be more supportive of others’ input.

6.If more than ten participants have been invited to the session, break the group into teams of five or six people and have each team brainstorm the issue. Smaller teams remove some of the formality and make people more at ease. And feeling comfortable means sharing more ideas.

7.Write the objective of the session where everyone in the room can see it. Put it in a question form, starting with either "How can we…?" or "What can be done to…?" For example, "How can we better understand the needs of our customers?" or "What can be done to improve the quality of this product?"

8.Be sure to capture all of the group’s ideas. An interactive whiteboard is ideal for brainstorming since ideas are displayed on the whiteboard surface (which can stimulate additional ideas), easily edited and saved to a computer file. Whichever tool you use to record your ideas, be sure that they’re saved for future reference. After all, what good is generating ideas if nobody remembers them after the session ends?

9.If the flow of ideas begins to fizzle, the leader should step in. Some ideas:

  • Re-read every third idea. This may spark additional ideas.
  • Ask a participant to select an idea and give reasons why he likes it. This will generate conversation around the idea and provide an opportunity to build on it.
  • If you’re the session leader, keep an idea or two to yourself. When the conversation dies, share these ideas to initiate more discussion.