Brainstorming is a group problem-solving technique that is intended to help members develop innovative new approaches to a problem in an unthreatening environment. First developed by A.F. Osborne in 1941, brainstorming in its most basic form involves stimulating all the members of a group to express a variety of ideas, which are built upon and recorded for future reference. Critical judgment of the ideas is reserved until later in the process, when the ideas are evaluated, combined, improved, and changed until the group reaches a final resolution of the problem. Brainstorming can be particularly useful in providing creative solutions to problems that have defied traditional problem-solving methods, as well as in such applications as new product development.
There are three critical factors that determine the success of a brainstorming effort. First, the group must strive to produce a large quantity of ideas, as this increases the likelihood that they will happen upon the best possible solution. Second, the group must be certain to withhold judgement of the ideas as they are expressed, since the negative thinking of one group member can make others less willing to participate and thus derail the whole process. Third, the group leader must create a positive environment for the brainstorming session and channel the creative energies of all the members in the same direction.
In his book Thinkertoys, Michael Michalko outlined a series of steps that should be followed in setting up a brainstorming session.
After the brainstorming portion of the meeting has been completed, the leader or group should arrange all the ideas into related categories to prioritize and evaluate them. These lists can then be evaluated and modified by the group as needed in order to settle on a course of action to pursue. After the conclusion of the meeting, it may be helpful to send participants a copy of the idea lists to keep them thinking about the issue under discussion. The group moderator may ask members to report back later on ideas they considered worthy of action, and to offer any ideas they might have about implementation.
There are a number of variations on the basic theme of brainstorming. In brainwriting, the members of a group write their ideas down on paper and then exchange their lists with others. When group members expand upon each other's ideas in this way, it frequently leads to innovative new approaches. Another possibility is to brainstorm via a bulletin board, which can be hung in a central office location or posted on a computer network. The bulletin board centers upon a basic topic or question, and people are encouraged to read others'responses and add their own. One benefit of this approach is that it keeps the problem at the forefront of people's minds. Finally, it is also possible to perform solo brainstorming. In this approach, a person writes down at least one idea per day on an index card. Eventually he or she can look at all the cards, shuffle them around, and combine the ideas.
Hurt, Floyd. "Beating Brainstorming Blues." Association Management. April 2000.
McFadzean, Elspeth. "Encouraging Creative Thinking." Leadership and Organization Development Journal. November 1999.
Michalko, Michael. Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Business Creativity for the 90s. Ten Speed Press, 1991.
Rasiel, Ethan M. "Some Brainstorming Exercises." Across the Board. June 2000.
"The Right Way to Brainstorm." Inc. July 1999.