The word “brainstorm” refers to the process of generating a series of ideas intended to address a specific question. The idea of brainstorming was first introduced in 1942 by Alex Osborn in his book How to Think Up. Osborn was frustrated with the lack of innovative ideas from his team of advertisers.
Since then, the concept of brainstorming has morphed into a myriad of different branches, though most people tend to rely on the base model that Osborn proposed. Traditional brainstorming involves a team of people, from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, working together to solve a problem. The goal is to generate a large quantity of ideas that will later be culled and refined into one or more quality solutions.
As you work to develop strategies for achieving your business goals, brainstorming can play an important role. Rather than attempting to solve the problem in isolation, why not tap into the diverse experience, education, and creative juices of the team? Here are the four general rules of brainstorming as presented by Osborn.
- Focus on quantity. The goal of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible. You want a figurative “storm” of ideas. Don’t spend time analyzing any particular thought. Digging into the specifics of an idea will short-circuit the generation of others by slowing things down and shifting the team’s thought process from “big picture” to “small details.”
- Withhold criticism. Resist the temptation to pass judgement on a suggestion. You want people to remain open and the flow of ideas to continue unabated until they naturally dry up. Pointing out the problem with any one thought kills the momentum in two ways. The individual that voiced the idea in question is now embarrassed, self-conscious, and unlikely to share again. Others involved now hesitate before offering ideas of their own; wondering if the words they speak will be met with criticism as well.
- Welcome unusual ideas. Remember, the purpose of brainstorming is to generate a large quantity of ideas. We’re not concerned with the quality just yet. And sometimes the wackiest, most outlandish ideas prove to be the best. Sure, that idea that someone expressed may be really out there; but it could prove to be just the spark needed to spark a really great – and doable – thought in someone else’s brain.
- Combine and improve ideas. Sometimes the best solution to a problem is really a combination of ideas. Look for relationships between ideas; or take two seemingly opposing thoughts and see if they can’t somehow work together. Expanding on someone’s initial thought is a great way to keep the ideas flowing and take brainstorming to a whole new level.
Brainstorming is an effective technique used by leaders seeking to achieve their goals while engaging their team. When employees have a hand in developing the strategies guiding their work, they are infinitely more likely to act on them. As a team, there’s a greater sense of urgency to succeed, leading to increased collaboration and accountability. Those are side effects any leader would welcome.
There are a variety of options to traditional brainstorming, and many resources to help jumpstart the process. If you’d like more information on brainstorming, or assistance in facilitating a brainstorming session, just let me know. I’d be happy to help. Of course, the next step is to refine the best ideas into workable strategies. I’ll provide some thoughts on that process next week.