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Brainstorming is an effective method for generating innovative solutions to difficult problems by having a group of people focus on a particular issue.
The goal is producing as many creative or unusual ideas and solutions as possible. When properly facilitated, a brainstorming session becomes a no-holds barred, nonjudgmental eruption of ideas, tactics, concepts, strategies, options, issues, and random musings.
When there are no limits or boundaries regarding what thoughts or ideas can be expressed (except for criticism of other ideas) this creates an environment that encourages spontaneous, unconventional "out-of-the-box" thinking — and minimizes limiting beliefs or preconceptions that can get in the way of true creative thinking.
Once the brainstorming session has ended, then the ideas can be analyzed and the best solutions can be explored either using further brainstorming or other conventional problem solving methods.
The facilitator sets the stage, and keeps the session focused.
The facilitator should start the brainstorming session by initially defining or stating the problem/situation that needs to be solved or addressed. A time limit should be set (45 minutes is the maximum recommended per session) and the facilitator should encourage an enthusiastic, uncritical attitude among brainstormers.
Record every idea: One participant should be designated as the note keeper, writing ideas on a board for all to see while the brainstorming session progresses.
Fun is a Must!: Brainstorming participants should be encouraged to speak freely and have fun in the process. Encouraging participants to come with as many ideas as possible, from the simple and practical to the wild and imaginative.
Ideas Only Please – No evaluation: Participants must be reminded from time to time not to evaluate or criticize during the brainstorming session. Criticism leads to participants being unable to risk creativity and keeps some members from presenting ideas for fear the idea will be criticized.
Piggy-Backing is a Good Thing: Brainstorming participants should not only be encouraged to come up with new ideas, but also to "spark off" from other people's ideas and help develop or expand on those ideas.
Pre and Post-Session brainstorming: Encourage individuals to brainstorm on their own, using a group merely for warming-up first. Groups can ask individual members to brainstorm in private before and after a group session. This can help the team members to enter the session with a wider range of possibilities. The solutions can later be developed and enhanced by the group member's brainstorming session.
Individual and group brainstorming can be mixed, perhaps by defining a problem, and then letting team members initially come up with a wide range of possibly shallow solutions. These solutions could then be enhanced and developed by group brainstorming.
The payoff could be great; this calculated risk of bringing people together to share information could not only provide solutions, but give a boost to teamwork and communication within your organization.
Jan Kantor is a Southwest Florida business consultant and executive coach. For more information, or to contact him regarding