Steps to Generate Effective Ideas Using Brainstorming

brainstorming meeting at office
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Brainstormingis a technique where ideas for a specific problem or situation are brought up freely, with the idea that nothing should be rejected until all of the ideas are presented.

While normally brainstorming is done in groups, an individual can certainly hold a brainstorm session on their own by writing down their own ideas.

Alex Osborn, an advertising executive who died in 1966, is credited with creating the process and giving it the moniker, “Brainstorming.” Osborn felt that the standard business meeting inhibited the creation and sharing of new ideas. As such he wanted to come up with a new method to develop ideas.

He created the following rules for brainstorming:

  • All ideas are welcome, no criticism.
  • More ideas are better — you're looking for quantity.
  • As ideas are shared, people will build on each other.
  • Wild, crazy, and impossible ideas are encouraged.

How Does Brainstorming in a Meeting Function?

There are many different ways to conduct a brainstorming session, but here are seven general principles that will make brainstorming sessions and other meetings successful.

Prepare for the session. You need a conference room with a place for notes to be taken. You can use flip charts, a whiteboard, a computer that you can project onto a screen, or whatever works for your group. Make sure you have the right materials, such as pens with enough ink.

Assign a person to write on the board. The key talent consideration for this is handwriting, not level. It's okay for an admin to take the notes, but the VP can also take on the note taker role.

Gather your group together. The interactions among participants are a critical part of brainstorming. It is possible to do so over video conference, but if possible, having everyone in the same room can help. If you expect the meeting to last a long time, snacks and drinks never hurt.

State the problem clearly. The purpose of brainstorming is to solve a specific problem. A good method is to write the problem clearly at the top of the board. For instance: “Location for company picnic” or “How to ensure employees always clock in and out” or “Ideas for the new marketing campaign.” Having this in full view of everyone helps the meeting stay focused.

Provide the necessary background information. Ideally, you would provide the necessary information before the meeting, but sometimes you need to provide it during the meeting.

For instance, if your problem is, “How to ensure that employees always clock in and out,” you'd need to explain why that's a problem, what groups are forgetting to clock in/out, what the consequences of this are, and so forth.

Without this information, participants may not understand the real need for the brainstorming session, which will decrease the probability of a good session and a workable solution.

There are no bad ideas in brainstorming. While the group will, of course, generate some bad ideas, group members are asked not to offer criticism until after the brainstorming session has ended. The note taker should write down whatever ideas are thrown out without comment or criticism.

Other group members should take care not to comment negatively either. Remember that John's dumb idea may spark a thought in Carol's head that makes Polly think of the idea that is ultimately chosen. Ideas don't need to be logical or legal, just throw them out.

Set a time limit. A good brainstorming session doesn't last forever. Depending on the problem, 10 or even five minutes may provide adequate time. Other sessions can last longer, but regardless, state up front how long this will go on. The time crunch at the end might spur ideas.

Go over your list of ideas. Once the brainstorming session is complete, the group can discuss the list and pick out the most promising ideas. Even though you're rejecting ideas at this stage, take care not to become too critical of rejected ideas.

Why? You want your team members willing and excited to share their ideas next time. When you have your list of the most promising ideas, you can start to do research to determine which one to implement.

Is Brainstorming the Best Tool for Finding a Creative Solution?

Some people think so, but others think the fast list creation doesn't allow for the truly great ideas. If you choose to use brainstorming as an idea generation technique, you don't have to limit yourself to ideas from that session. If something better comes up tomorrow, there are no hard feelings.