Brainstorming (sometimes referred to as Word Storming or Thought Showering) is an organized approach for producing ideas by letting the mind think without interruption.
Brainstorming can be done either individually or in a group; in group brainstorming sessions, the participants are encouraged, and often expected, to share their ideas with one another as soon as they are generated. The key to brainstorming is not to interrupt the thought process. As ideas come to the mind, they are captured and stimulate the development of better ideas. Brainstorming has some limited use in enhancing creativity in that generating a broad selection of ideas may lead to a unique and improved concept.
It is a means of enhancing divergent production, aiming to facilitate problem solving through the maxim quantity breeds quality. The greater the number of ideas generated, the greater the chance of producing a radical and effective solution.
It is often emphasized in brainstorming sessions that you should put criticism 'on hold'. Instead of immediately stating what might be wrong with an idea, the participants focus on extending or adding to it, reserving criticism for a later 'critical stage' of the process. The assertion is that when suspending judgment, you create a supportive atmosphere where participants feel free to generate unusual ideas. However, persistent respectful criticism of ideas by a minority dissenter can reduce groupthink, leading to more and better quality ideas.
Brainstorming has many applications but it is most frequently used in:
- New product development - obtaining ideas for new products and making improvements to existing products
- Advertising - developing ideas for advertising campaigns
- Joint Application design - speeds every step of JAD
- Problem Solving - issues, root causes, alternative solutions, impact analysis, evaluation
- Process management - finding ways of improving business and production processes
- Project Management - identifying client objectives, risks, deliverables, work packages, resources, roles and responsibilities, tasks, issues
- Team building - generates sharing and discussion of ideas while stimulating partitipants to think
Procedure for a typical brainstorming session
- A moderate size room is equipped with about a dozen chairs in the shape of a hollow square so that each participant is looking at the others in the group. A flipchart, blackboard, or overhead projector is placed in a prominent location. The room is free of telephones, clocks, or any other distractions.
- Between six and twenty people with an interest in the subject (although not necessarily experts) are invited to participate. Osborn (1957) recommended that individual ideation should occur during preparation, prior to the group session.
- Write on the flipchart (or blackboard) a statement of the subject or problem that will be discussed. This is often presented as a question.
- Have everyone write their ideas on post-it notes. Post and organize these ideas on flipcharts. A single topic can be brainstormed within an hour. An older method of having one recorder write the ideas on flipcharts is much slower. Everyone had to wait until the recorder finishes the last idea. Ideas should be written concisely but without paraphrasing. The recorder should state the idea in the words she has written to confirm that it expresses the meaning intended by the originator.
- Choose one person to facilitate the process. This involves encouraging participation by everyone and maintaining a criticism free, uninhibited atmosphere. Encourage even wild and seemingly ridiculous ideas.
- After 5 to 20 minutes the facilitator calls an end to the idea generation phase.
- Organize the ideas based on the topic goal. The facilitator encourages discussion during this phase. Additional ideas may be generated.
- Group sub ideas under main categories.
- After each topic advance to the next topic to be brainstormed.
- Review the list from top to bottom to ensure everyone understands the ideas. Eliminate from the list any duplications. Remove any obviously ridiculous suggestions.
- Thank all participants and give them each a token recompense as a sign of appreciation.
Nominal group technique
Nominal group technique is a type of brainstorming that introduces structure to the process. It is useful in ensuring that all participant have an equal say and can be used to generate a rank-ordered list of ideas.
Typically each participant is asked to write down their ideas. Then the moderator asks each participant in turn to express one of the ideas that they have written down. The moderator writes down each idea on the flipchart. Then each participant copies the group's final list on a blank page giving each idea a score. The pages are collected from each participant and the scores summed, providing a rank-ordered list.
'Word Storm' and 'Thought Shower'
There has been some discussion regarding the political correctness of the term brainstorm, with some considering it may be offensive to those suffering from epilepsy. Supporters of this argument prefer to use the phrase Word storm or Thought Shower .