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The Value of Brainstorming
Do you ever feel that you have looked at a business problem or a situation from all the angles you can think of, and you are out of ideas? A technique called brainstorming might open up some new avenues to explore.
Basically, brainstorming involves gathering a group of people together to consider a problem, and asking them to come up with ideas, feeding off each other’s suggestions. At the beginning of a brainstorming exercise, suggestions are not criticized or even evaluated, because one idea could lead to another that is even better. Instead, a facilitator simply writes down the ideas as fast as they are suggested, and the group sorts it all out later.
A successful brainstorming session involves several steps:
- Start with as diverse a group of participants as possible. Involving people from all parts of an organization provides different perspectives. And the whole point of brainstorming is to look at a problem in a different light.
- Clearly define the problem you want to cover in the session. Although you don’t want to impose any rules on the brainstorming itself, you do want to keep the group on topic. So make sure everyone understands what the topic is.
- Make sure that no suggestions are criticized during the session. For brainstorming to be successful, participants have to feel free to be as creative as possible and to build on ideas that already have been made.
- Encourage participants to have fun. Good brainstorming involves a lot of laughter. When participants are having fun, they are likely to be more creative.
- Although you want participants to follow up on ideas, don’t let them get sidetracked. When an idea has run its course, encourage the group to consider another angle.
During the brainstorming session, someone should be writing down the ideas. This can be you, of course. But if you are also the facilitator, it might be better to choose someone else. Write down the basics of the ideas on a board or a flip chart, for example, so that the whole group can see the list.
Once the brainstorming part of the session is over, ask the group to help evaluate the list of ideas. Many probably can be discounted fairly quickly, because they are too silly or impractical, too expensive or have some other obvious drawback. But get input from the participants about which ideas are most workable. You might want to rank them, for example. And some ideas might be more effective when linked with other ideas.
The ultimate decision, of course, will be up to you or to someone else high up in the organization. But that decision could be made much easier because you got honest input from a larger group of people.