Brainstorming is much more than a technique, it is an authentic group work method whose goal is to maximize creativity. Developed by Alex Osborn, a specialist in creativity and advertising, at the end of the 30s of the last century, it has since been used with great success in various sectors.
The main goal of Brainstorming is to find creative solutions to a problem, although this technique can be used in a wide range of contexts to encourage originality. In fact, although the technique is often used in groups, it can also be applied on a personal level to find new ideas and solutions.
The phases of Brainstorming
Over time, several variants of the Brainstorming technique have emerged that have enriched its potential, but the essence remains unchanged.
In general, it consists of two phases: the first, essentially productive, in which new ideas are proposed and the second phase of selecting the best ideas to transfer them to practice. Each stage performs a different function but they are complementary. The first phase encourages divergent thinking while the second tends towards convergence.
For the first phase of Brainstorming to be truly fruitful, there are some fundamental principles that must be followed to the letter:
- Eliminate critical judgment
- To lean towards the quantity of ideas rather than the quality
- Encourage the appearance of absurd ideas
- Develop the ideas of others
The principle of suspension of critical judgment is fundamental as it is the basis on which many ideas can be generated. Without the fear of criticism, the mind is free and new ideas appear, some crazy but others original and with great potential.
In any case, the Brainstorming technique is only successful when it results in a valuable idea that can be put into practice or that solves the problem. Which leads to the second stage of the technique.
In the second phase the main objective is to improve or develop the ideas obtained in the first phase. Of course, this does not mean that new ideas cannot be added. At this point new principles are applied because it is necessary to evaluate ideas more objectively, especially taking into account the real possibilities of putting them into practice. The principles to be followed in this phase are:
1. Use an affirmative judgment
2. Adopt a thoughtful attitude
3. Prioritize new ideas
4. Follow the trail of good ideas
At this stage there is an essential aspect: people must be able to work effectively as a team in search of an idea because in conventional groups it usually happens that too much time is wasted defending one's ideas and attacking those of others. Consequently, those with greater power or argumentative ability end up "imposing" their ideas, even if they are not the best.
In Brainstorming it is necessary to take a further step forward because what is really important is to find a common solution: the best and most creative solution.
How to put brainstorming into practice?
To put Brainstorming into practice you need a large enough blackboard on which to write down all the ideas that will arise. It is also essential to have two people taking on the roles of coordinator or facilitator and secretary. The coordinator will guide the group process while the secretary will write down all the ideas of the group members.
It is a group exercise to improve collective functioning and eliminate inhibitions. For example: mention objects that cost less than 1 euro or name all the soft things that come to mind… This way the participants clear their minds and start making more creative connections.
2. Generation of ideas
First of all, we need to establish a set of ideas that we want to achieve because it is not productive to waste four hours generating hundreds of ideas that cannot be processed later.
The duration of the session must also be defined in advance when communicating the basic rules to the group:
• Any criticism is forbidden
• Any ideas are welcome
• You can generate as many ideas as possible
• Ideas can be developed and associated, even if they are foreign
At this point people will start coming up with new ideas, as long as they have some relationship (no matter how small) to the problem. Absolutely anything, however strange or implausible it may seem, can be expressed because often the most original solutions arise from the fusion of two concepts with no apparent link. This phase is related to another creative technique, the syneptic.
The important thing is that people feel as free as possible. It is not unusual for the ideas that emerge at the beginning to be more conservative, but with the passage of time the proposals become more original, imaginative and interesting.
3. Working with ideas
Existing ideas can be improved by applying a checklist; other ideas can also be added. Osborn recommends using questions, such as:
Can it be applied in another way?
Can it be changed?
Can it be expanded?
Can it be reduced?
Can it be replaced?
Can it be reorganized?
Can it be reversed?
Can it be combined?
At this point we will have a collection of ideas to work on, although some may be far-fetched or unachievable. That is why it is important to select them, evaluate them and give them a hierarchy.
After generating the ideas, the group establishes the criteria by which it will analyze and evaluate them. Criteria such as: profitability of the idea, degree of feasibility, degree of extension can be proposed ...
At this point it is necessary to be very methodical and to reconnect the convergent thinking. It will be necessary to analyze the pros and cons, production costs, social impact… Undoubtedly it is a less spectacular and perhaps more ordinary phase, but decisive for success. Once some ideas have been discarded, the ones that are really valid to solve the problem in question remain.
3 essential aspects for the Brainstorming technique to be effective
The essential goal of the Brainstorming technique is that people present their solutions without fear of failing or making a fool of themselves, so it is necessary to create a climate in which everyone can speak and no one monopolizes the word. When it is applied on a personal level, we need to pay attention to our "critical self" as it could stifle creativity.
In any case, there are other fundamental rules that determine the success of this technique:
1. Don't tackle more than one problem at a time. Raising more issues is often counterproductive and will only waste time.
2. Prefer small groups. Alex Osborn, the creator of brainstorming, suggests that the ideal group is 12 people, although it is true that it has been successfully applied by groups of 40 people, but if you don't have a lot of experience in managing groups, it will be better to limit yourself to a smaller circle. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Texas revealed that working with isolated nominal groups generates more ideas and these are more creative than working with larger groups.
3. Choose people who know the problem but have different perspectives. It is always advisable that they have different professional backgrounds, different ages and also different degrees of experience. This will ensure the flow of more creativity through different perspectives.