The Brainstorming is much more than a technique, it is an authentic method of group working whose objective is to enhance creativity to the maximum. Developed by Alex Osborn, a specialist in creativity and advertising, in the late 1930s, since then it has been used with great success in different areas.
The main goal of Brainstorming is usually 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 it is a technique that is often used in groups, it can also be applied on a personal level to find new ideas and solutions.
Phases of the Brainstorming
Over time, have emerged different variants of the Brainstorming technique that have enriched its potentialities. However, the essence of the method remains the same.
Broadly speaking, it consists of two phases: a first productive stage where new ideas are proposed and a second phase of selecting the best ideas to put them into practice. Each phase fulfills a different function but they are complementary. The first stage encourages divergent thinking while the second stage tends towards convergence.
For the first phase of the Brainstorming to be truly fruitful, there are some fundamental principles that must be followed:
– Eliminating the critical judgment
– Preferring the quantity of ideas rather than quality
– Encouraging the appearance of absurd ideas
– Developing the ideas of the others
The principle of suspending critical judgment is fundamental as it is the basis on which many ideas can be generated. By losing the fear of criticism, the mind is freed and new ideas appear, some crazy but others original with great potential.
However, the Brainstorming technique is only successful when it results in a valuable idea that can be implemented or solves the problem. Which leads to the second phase of the technique.
In this second phase the main objective is to improve or develop the ideas that were obtained in the first stage. Obviously, that does not mean that new ideas cannot be added. At this point, new principles are applied as it is necessary to assess 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. Using an affirmative judgment
2. Adopting a thoughtful attitude
3. Prioritizing novel ideas
4. Keeping track of the good ideas
At this stage there is an essential aspect: that people be able to really work as a team in pursuit of an idea, because in conventional groups what usually happens is that everyone spends too much time defending their ideas and attacking those of the others. As a result, those who have greater power or argumentative capacity end up “imposing” their ideas, even if they are not the best.
In the Brainstorming it is necessary to go one step further because what is truly important is to come up with a joint solution: the best and most creative solution.
How to apply the Brainstorming?
To apply the Brainstorming you need a large blackboard on which all the ideas that arise will be written. It is also essential to have two people who assume the roles of coordinator or facilitator and secretary. The coordinator will lead 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: mentioning objects that cost less than 1 euro or naming all the soft things that come to mind… In this way the participants free their minds and begin to make more creative connections.
2. Generation of ideas
First of all, we must establish a number of ideas that we want to reach since it is not productive to spend four hours generating hundreds of ideas that later cannot be processed.
The time the session will last must also be defined in advance while the fundamental rules are made known to the group:
• All criticism is prohibited
• Any idea is welcome
• Can be generated as many ideas as possible
• All ideas can be developed and associated, even if they are weird
At this point people will begin to propose new ideas, as long as they have some relationship (no matter how small) with 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 things with no apparent links to each other. In fact, this stage is related to another creative technique, synectics.
The important thing is that people feel as free as possible. It is not unusual for the ideas that emerge to be more conservative at first, but as time goes on, 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 the use of questions, such as:
Can it be applied in another way?
Can be modified?
Can it be expanded?
Can it be reduced?
Can it be replaced?
Can it be rearranged?
Can it be reversed?
Can it be combined?
At this point we will have a bank of ideas to work on, although some may be far-fetched or unrealizable. That is why it is important to select them, evaluate them and give them a hierarchy.
After generating ideas, the group establishes the criteria with which it will analyze and evaluate them. Criteria can be proposed such as: Profitability of the idea, degree of feasibility, degree of extension of the idea …
At this point you have to be very methodical and reconnect convergent thinking. It will be necessary to analyze pros and cons, production costs, social impact … Without a doubt it is a less spectacular phase and perhaps boring, but it is decisive for success. Once some ideas have been discarded, we are left with those that are really valid to solve the problem in question.
3 essential aspects for the Brainstorming technique to be effective
The essential objective of the Brainstorming technique is for people to present their solutions without fear of failure or become ridiculous, for which it is necessary to create a climate in which everyone can speak and no one monopolizes the speech. When applied on a personal level, we must be careful with our “critical self” as it could overwhelm creativity.
In any case, there are other fundamental rules that determine the success of this technique:
1. Do not tackle more than one problem at a time. Bringing up multiple problems is often counterproductive and will only waste time.
2. Prefer small groups. Alex Osborn, the creator of the brainstorming, stated that the ideal number is 12 people, although it is true that it has also been applied in groups of up to 40 people with success, but if you do not have much experience leading groups, it will be better to limit yourself to one more restricted circle. In fact, a study carried out at the University of Texas revealed that working with isolated nominal groups generates more ideas and these are more creative than working in large groups.
3. Choose people who know the problem but have different perspectives. It is always recommended that they have a diverse professional training, different ages and even different degrees of experience. This will ensure that more creativity flows through different perspectives.
Putman, V. L. & Paulus, P. B. (2009) Brainstorming, Brainstorming Rules and Decision Making. Journal of Creative Behavior; 43(1): 29-40.
Isaksen, S. & Gaulin, J. P. (2005) Reexamination of Brainstorming Research: Implications for Research and Practice. Gifted Child Quarterly; 49(4): 315-329.
Weisskopf-Joelson, E. & Eliseo, T. S. (1961) An experimental study of the effectiveness of brainstorming. Journal of Applied Psychology; 45(1): 45–49.