Brainstorm better with James Manktelow & Amy Carlson.
James Manktelow: Hello. I'm James Manktelow, CEO of MindTools.com, home to hundreds of free career-building tools and resources.
Amy Carlson: And I'm Amy Carlson from Mind Tools. We're going to talk about brainstorming – a popular and effective technique for developing creative solutions to a problem.
JM: Brainstorming is often used in a business setting to encourage teams to come up with original ideas. It's a free-wheeling meeting format, in which the leader sets out the problem that needs to be solved. Participants then suggest ideas for solving the problem, and build on ideas suggested by others. A firm rule is that ideas must not be criticized – they can be completely wacky and way out. This frees people up to explore ideas creatively and break out of established thinking patterns.
AC: Everyone in the group is free to announce any ideas they have about the topic in hand. At times, the ideas may seem a bit bizarre, but with the help of the group, some of them can be honed into really innovative and workable solutions.
JM: It's also useful to brainstorm on your own. When you don't have to worry about other people's opinions – you can often think up more ideas like this. However, the development of those ideas is often better in a group, when you can tap into other people's views and experience.
AC: It pays to run your group brainstorming sessions properly, which means following a number of guidelines. First, clearly define the problem you want to solve and lay out any criteria that need to be met. Then make sure the session stays focused on the problem.
The participants should come from as wide a range of disciplines as possible, so that the ideas represent a broad spectrum of experience and perspectives. It's really important that no one criticizes or evaluates any of the ideas that come up. This will make people scared to express their thoughts and the session will grind to a halt.
So encourage an enthusiastic, uncritical atmosphere in the room, and try to get everyone to contribute something, even the quietest members of the group.
JM: If you find that creativity starts to dry up anyway, you can stimulate more ideas by seeding the session with random words.
AC: One person should be in charge of jotting down the ideas that come out in the session, either on paper or on a flip chart. Or you may want to consider using a computer-based tool for group brainstorming. There are several available, and they can improve the effectiveness of your session.
JM: As well as generating some great solutions to specific problems, brainstorming can be a lot of fun, which can only be good for your team.