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Brainstorming is a problem-solving method that helps you see the challenge in a new light. During brainstorming sessions, you get out of the traditional step-by-step logic and remove obstacles. You can do it individually or in a group. Brainstorming and its techniques can be your only tool for leading a business meeting.

This blog post will discuss why brainstorming is important and introduce some practical techniques. Then you’ll read about the basic principles of a brainstorming session that helps you and your team get the most out of this problem-solving method. Finally, you’ll get a glimpse of what comes after brainstorming, how to select and improve ideas and make them ready for implementation.

Why Do You Need Brainstorming Techniques?

Brainstorming encourages people to think and respond in a judgment-free environment. It enables a group to find solutions to a variety of problems. Here are some of the reasons you can use brainstorming techniques.

  • Risk identification: risks are often discussed on the management level while talking about them in a team yields better results. After the brainstorming session, members understand the risk and feel committed to managing it during the project.
  • Problem-solving: get out of the usual world of logic and find creative solutions to problems by letting the mind wander in a broader space. Ideas may sound crazy initially, but the wilder they get, the more invaluable solutions you’ll find.
  • Process improvement: Thinking outside the box lets you spot the defective points in a process. When you identify flaws, you’ll analyse and improve them for better results. 
  • Product development: a team can bring their experience in using a product to help maximise reliability, safety, quality and efficiency. Brainstorming helps bring the craziest design ideas to the table while allowing you to develop those ideas into state-of-the-art products.
  • Requirements gathering: brainstorming is a fast and easy way to produce lists of requirements. Imagine you have a product launch next week. Get your team around the table to determine who gets invited, how you advertise and where you’d like to hold the event.
  • Business ideas: what will your next product or service look like? What customer needs will you address? Where should you start the research? Take as much input as you can by gathering a group. Talk to them about your core values and brand strategy to find an all-inclusive business plan.

Read more about benefits in our other post “The Power of Brainstorming.”

What are Brainstorming Techniques?

There are many variations of technique based on the desired outcome. Some involve an individual rather than a group, while others ask each group member to work on ideas separately, e.g. on a piece of paper. The goal is sometimes to give each member an equal opportunity to voice their views. Some techniques rely on reversed brainstorming. We discussed the latter in our “Best Idea Generation Tools and Techniques for Product Improvement”. So, here we’ll discuss other favourite brainstorming techniques.

Mind Mapping

In mind mapping, write the main idea in the centre. Then introduce main themes or subtopics as branches and secondary ideas as twigs.  If you’re planning an event, write the event’s name in the centre. Then add guest list, logistics, agenda and budget as branches and location, decoration and catering as subdivisions of logistics. Keep doing this to make a complete map.

Mind mapping is a great brainstorming technique to visualise a complex challenge. It helps you to summarise information and organise ideas. After you know the details, you can assign members to work on them.

If you’re doing it individually, you only need a piece of paper and coloured pens. When you’re in a team, do it on a whiteboard or flipcharts. Mind mapping software like MindMeister and XMind are great ways to create eye-catching designs for your presentations.

Brainwriting

Brainwriting eliminates the anchoring bias, a situation where we rely on the first presented ideas. It also motivates the silent crowd. Remember that people don’t need to be loud to have great ideas.

Brainwriting is an excellent way to give every individual a fair participation opportunity. Use it if you have a couple of loud voices in your team, or you feel often stocked with the same solutions and need a new perspective.

Questorming

Questorming or question brainstorming aims at questions rather than solutions. The technique focuses on getting rid of unnecessary criticism blocking the creative process. A well-structured question finds its answer quickly.

When you’re done with brainstorming questions, list them from best to worst. Remind your group that you’re doing an intellectual game, so they won’t get emotional. If there are too many questions, divide them into different themes and discuss them in further sessions. Have a list of generic questions to use when the team is stuck. Questions like:

  • Where/how should the question be asked?
  • What question do we need here?
  • Do we have the means to answer that now?
  • Is that question answerable?
  • Is there essential information that we lack?
  • Have we covered all the possible questions?

Figure Storming

In this technique, choose a well-known character, a successful figure in your field, someone your team admires, or even a fictional character. Then, define the challenge and ask how this person would deal with it.

This brainstorming technique removes the usual barriers. For instance, you ask, ‘what would J. K. Rowling do to double social media engagement’? By imagining that, your team won’t worry about the limitations Muggles (non-magical people) have! So this method opens the doors of creativity, enabling your team to share their craziest ideas. The fact that it is from the mind of a celebrity will also ease the idea generation process, especially for the members who don’t yet feel comfortable sharing.

How to Get the Most out of Brainstorming Techniques?

To get the most out of brainstorming sessions, help your team generate as many ideas as possible. You can achieve the goal by reducing the mental block and stimulating group creativity. Follow these four brainstorming principles to get the best results.

  1. No criticism: evaluation and judgment come later.
  2. Opt for quantity: quality comes later. Bad ideas can lead to good ideas, while good ideas can lead nowhere.
  3. Encourage wild ideas: remind your team that ‘there’s no such thing as a bad idea.’
  4. Build on each other’s thoughts: it helps improve the quality of ideas.

In addition to those four principles,

  • The problem should be simple and well-defined. A good example is coming up with the name of a new product.
  • The group must be up to 12. Managing more than this number is troublesome and may lead to confusion.
  • The group must be a mixture of experts and newcomers. Non-experts bring fresh ideas. They can think outside the box, while experts can trim the ideas.
  • Give enough information to members before the session. It gives them enough time to think about it and be prepared.

What Comes After the Brainstorming Session?

You must have an evaluation session, preferably right after the brainstorming. If the time between the two sessions is too long, minds are no longer fresh and eager to continue. The evaluation session can involve the same people or a narrowed-down population.

You can use the six thinking hats approach introduced by Edward de Bono, psychologist and philosopher. This technique asks participants to wear imaginary hats during different phases. Here’s the hat sequence:

  • First, start with the BLUE hat to set the session’s focus. What is the problem, and what do you want to achieve in this session?
  • Then wear the WHITE hat to give the participants information about the problem. What data can you share about the situation? What are the questions of the participants?
  • The GREEN hat is used to generate ideas. You can use any idea generation technique, from SCAMPER to metaphorical thinking, mind mapping or reframing matrix.
  • RED hat gives everyone the chance to vote for the best ideas. Which idea does every individual feel is the best one? What are their intuitive choices?
  • You wear the BLACK hat to evaluate the ideas critically. Do ideas align with the company’s values? What are the risks involved?
  • To look at the ideas’ bright side, put on the YELLOW hat. What do you like about the idea?

Conclusion

Alex Osborn, an advertising executive, revealed his creative problem-solving method in 1939. He called it a ‘think up’, but the term later changed into the catchier phrase ‘brainstorming.’ The technique has since operated as one of the best ways to come up with solutions, from writing an essay to launching a new product. The key to a successful brainstorming session is to remove inhibitions, which means letting go of what holds members back and helping them think without abstraction.

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Daniel Dippold

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