How to Generate REALLY Creative Ideas Through Brainstorming
Where did the term “brainstorming” originate anyway? Both the word itself, and the application thereof, were the brainchild of Alex Osborn who was born in the Bronx and spent his childhood in New York. He was a graduate of Hamilton College, where he had worked for the school newspaper. Upon graduation, Osborn attempted a career in journalism working at the a newspaper called Buffalo Express, where he was fired, surprisingly, due to a “lack of aptitude”.
Later, he founded the “Creative Education Foundation's Creative Problem Solving Institute”, the world's longest-running international creativity conference, and CPS has been taught at that conference as well as year-round in other venues for more than 50 years. His lifelong quest, probably because of his earlier experience of being fired as a budding journalist, was to improve the creativity and output of copywriters.
Where can Brainstorming be used most effectively? - it has an excellent track record where one or more people need to generate ideas very quickly to solve a variety of problems, including:
- Keywords for SEO uses on a website: KEYWORDS for brainstorming
- Serious technical holdups in any production oriented business
- Critical issues related to personnel safety in the workplace
- Ways to save a business money, especially in tough times, to avoid cutbacks
These are just some of MANY applications, and can be challenging, but rewarding.
Brainstorming, to generate a large number of ideas quickly, is a process which is ideal for drawing on the concept of “groupthink”, because it encourages a wide variety of divergent thinking, highly focused on one problem. No less than Alexander Graham Bell said “Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds”.
What itinerary should one follow for the initial kick-off?
1. Simply outline the basics of the approach to your group or team
Begin with a simple practical exercise. Choose something really simple, such as “To what other uses might a Tennis ball be put? - to show how creative one can be, here are just a few ideas for starters:
- Throw a few tennis balls into the dryer when you are drying comforters, fluffy coats, pillows, or anything else that could use a good fluffing.
- Put a tennis ball on the end of a broomstick and use it to clean cobwebs from the ceiling.
- Cut a tennis ball in half and use it to get a better grip when opening jars. Just place the ball half over the lid, and the rubber on the inside grips the lid to help you rotate it easier.
- Use the time-tested method for finding your car in a crowded parking lot: put a tennis ball on the end of the antenna.
Then, encourage your group's creative output, and have somebody to make notes on ALL the ideas & suggestions put forward.
2. Give them your “house-rules” for the session
There are generally just 5 basic rules that need to be observed, but local conditions and experience will dictate what changes to the following guidelines need to be made:
- Free-wheeling ideas are the key, and then to “have a ball” when using your imagination. Just shoot the ideas out, and there MUST be NO discussion at this stage of any item
- Encourage generating as many ideas as possible, no limits
- Suspend any criticism of any zany, cockamamie, ludicrous, even preposterous ideas – it is important to keep an open mind at ALL times
- Use a technique called “hitchhiking” - i.e. a participant who would like to develop or add to someone's idea should hold up their hand and snap their fingers for priority recognition by the leader. A series of hitchhiking ideas will permit a rapid evolution of ideas that could improve the basic concept
The Brainstorming panel is composed of a leader, recorder, and panel members. The leader is responsible for maintaining a rapid flow of ideas while the recorder lists the ideas as they are given on a flipchart visible to all. Panel size can vary; however, six to twelve is considered the optimum size.
3. Cut to the chase
Now that your assembled team (or panel) has been briefed about the process, and the simple rules, you are now ready to generate ideas which focus specifically on the current problem. Open this part of the proceedings, as leader, by talking about your own perspectives of the issue, and encourage the views of others before moving into the meat of the matter – the ideas generating stage. The usual way of getting answers is employed, using typically open-ended questions: “Why, What and How!
4. Delegate somebody to record proceedings
Place a whiteboard or flipchart in a position where it can easily be seen by everybody present. Choose one of your team to write the ideas up as they come up – this leaves the leader free to control the process as it unfolds.
5. State the problem clearly and succinctly, as you see it
It is not unusual that people tend to view an organizational problem in a multiplicity of ways. This makes it important to simplify the focus issue, so that there can be no misunderstandings. Try to approach the problem in a variety of ways, with a view to finding the way which expresses it most succinctly. Clearly display your “Statement of Purpose” on the whiteboard of flipchart. Give your group about 2 minutes grace to allow the words to really sink in.
All suggestions, no matter how way out should be written up on your display board, each being numbered to keep tally for use later. There should, indeed there must be, NO DISCUSSION, for this may have the effect of stemming the flow of ideas prematurely.
6. Amalgamate related ideas
When the flow of creativity has diminished to a trickle, it is now time for your team to couple, by number, the related ideas. Rehash and reword combined ideas, then rub out the old.
7. Group Like-sounding ideas
There are generally 3 broad groups to consider here:
- The possible – for immediate attention
- The impossible – totally absurd or impractical, or off-subject
- The unlikely – the “apparent” no-hopers, but not to be discarded yet.
8. Prioritize the best ideas
Classify the “possibles” above in order of what you see as the most likely solutions
9. Cater for the timid folk on the team
These are often the people who actually have superb ideas, but are intimidated by talking in front of large groups:
Here, each team participant writes out 4-5 of their ideas on an A4 sheet of paper. All the participants sheets are then shuffled and re-distributed, making sure that nobody gets their own sheet back. They then read to themselves, what is on the sheet that has been passed to them, and add their own. All the sheets are then collected and processed as under step 8 above.
The effectiveness of the old form of brainstorming has been questioned, and in view of modern developments related to the use of computers, and the nature of offices being much more widespread, the following refined approach may be better for some people:
Electronic brainstorming is a computerized version of the manual brainstorming technique. It is typically supported by an electronic meeting system (EMS) but simpler forms can also be done via email and may be browser based, or use peer-to-peer software.
With an electronic meeting system, participants share a list of ideas over the Internet. Ideas are entered independently. Contributions become immediately visible to all and are typically anonymous to encourage openness and reduce personal prejudice. Modern EMS also support asynchronous brainstorming sessions over extended periods of time as well as typical follow-up activities in the creative problem solving process such as categorization of ideas, elimination of duplicates, assessment and discussion of prioritized or controversial ideas.
Electronic brainstorming eliminates many of the problems of standard brainstorming, such as production blocking and evaluation apprehension. An additional advantage of this method is that all ideas can be archived electronically in their original form, and then retrieved later for further thought and discussion. Electronic brainstorming also enables much larger groups to brainstorm on a topic than would normally be productive in a traditional brainstorming session.
Some web based brainstorming techniques allow contributors to post their comments anonymously through the use of avatars. This technique also allows users to log on over an extended time period, typically one or two weeks, to allow participants some "soak time" before posting their ideas and feedback. This technique has been used particularly in the field of new product development, but can be applied in any number of areas where collecting and evaluating ideas would be useful.