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You’ve probably heard of brainstorming before – but can you define what it actually is, and do you know how to use it effectively?

The term was coined by advertising executive Alex Faickney Osborn in 1948 and developed in his 1953 book Applied Imagination. Brainstorming is a relaxed, lateral thinking approach to problem solving: an individual or a group reflects on an issue and expresses ideas, questions, or thoughts about it in an unstructured way. Out of these seemingly random and disorganised ideas, creative solutions can arise to solve problems.

Read on to find out why you should use brainstorming in your professional life, and how best to go about it.

What are the benefits of brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a powerful tool that can be used in business and in your personal life, too. Here are a few reasons why you should consider implementing it in your problem-solving process:

  • Fresh perspectives. Brainstorming is a way of getting out of a rut and finding creative solutions to problems. The act of shooting ideas and thoughts often leads to unexpected results and new ways of looking at issues.
  • Creative thinking. The absence of boundaries and structures in brainstorming can liberate inhibitions and empower people to express their wildest opinions. The ideas that come out of the process might be surprising, as people are encouraged to say whatever comes to their mind. The subconscious associations that come out of it can be interesting and effective ways of dealing with an issue.
  • Boosting team morale. Brainstorming can be a good way of bringing people together and fostering a positive team spirit. When done right, team members can leave a brainstorming session feeling empowered, invigorated, and confident in their work.

How to brainstorm: Method Suggestions

Brainstorming is a relaxed process with few rules, so there is no single way to go about it. However, we’ve gathered a few tried and tested methods to start you off.

  • Brainstorm for questions, not answers. During a brainstorming session with an MBA class, MIT Leadership Center Executive Director Hal Gregersen found the solution to a lingering interest by asking students to brainstorm for questions instead of answers. The traditional way of going about brainstorming is throwing solutions to an issue about, but thinking of related questions instead can bring up new ways of looking at the problem.
  • Work backwards. The idea for the Amazon Echo came from a brainstorming session. Mike George, Vice President at Amazon Echo, said the device started with a pretend press release announcing a similar product. The team worked backwards from the press release and came up with solutions to create it and refine it, starting from the end point.
  • Brainwriting. Instead of brainstorming orally, ask the people in the session to write down all of the thoughts and ideas they have about an issue. This means even the quietest people will have their say, and no ideas will be forgotten or lost in the process.

How to run an effective brainstorming session?

Whether you are on your own or in a group, there are certain things to keep in mind to make sure you are brainstorming effectively.

  • Choose a comfortable spot. Brainstorming requires feeling relaxed and at ease; that starts with choosing a place where the parties involved feel good.
  • Make people feel heard. Acknowledge every thought, idea, question. Don’t give more importance to one person over another, as this might discourage quieter people from chipping in.
  • Generate as many ideas as possible. Don’t set a time limit or a number of ideas to reach, as this might impede on the process.
  • Don’t criticise ideas, no matter how wild or seemingly random they seem. Those might be the breakthrough solutions you are after.
  • Make notes to reflect upon later. The process of brainstorming continues after the session is over; as such, it’s useless to run it without taking notes. Write all the ideas down so you can remember them later.
  • Choose a few thoughts, and focus on those. Once the session is over, go back over the notes made and choose some of the ideas and questions that came out of it. Choose what you think is most relevant, promising or creative.

Here at EWOR, we’re passionate about providing entrepreneurs with the right environment they need to thrive. In our Academy programme, you are surrounded by seasoned businesspeople and like-minded individuals so you can bounce ideas off each other and develop your ideas and found a successful start-up.

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