Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Se. M. Ed, Ph.D
Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India
Brainstorming- An Interactive Technique
Brain storming is a technique which is valuable for the stimulation and generation of ideas and the facilitation of their expression. The purpose of the procedure is to promote a quantity of ideas bearing upon a particular subject by identifying all possible aspects related to it. Brainstorming involves the cooperative thinking by groups towards the solution to a specific problem.
Brainstorming is a technique for generating new ideas on a topic, usually a problem that seems hard to solve. The rules for brainstorming are designed to help people be creative and spontaneous in their thinking so that as many ideas as possible, are generated. It was invented in 1941 by Alex Osborn, an advertising executive, who wanted to devise a method that would encourage people to spark off new ideas, without inhibitions. He defined brainstorming as “A conference technique by which a group attempts to find a solution for a specific problem by amassing all the ideas spontaneously by its members.”
According to Wikipedia “Brainstorming is a group creativity technique that was designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution of a problem.” No idea is dumb or impossible, and each person’s contribution is equally valuable.
Brainstorming, a useful tool to develop creative solutions to a problem, is a lateral thinking process by which students are asked to develop ideas or thoughts that may seem crazy or shocking at first. Participants can then change and improve them into original and useful ideas. Brainstorming can help define an issue, diagnose a problem, or possible solutions and resistance to proposed solutions
Different techniques of Brainstorming
Brainstorming is a great technique for generating creative ideas. Generally performed in groups, it’s a fun way to get lots of fresh ideas out on the table and get everyone thinking and pulling together
Structured Brainstorming -With this approach, every person in the team gives an idea as their turn comes up in rotation or pass until their next turn. This approach is useful in ‘encouraging’ the more reluctant people to participate but may create a certain amount of pressure.
Unstructured Brainstorming -Simply, team members give ideas as they come to mind. This method may be seen as more fun and more relaxed. It risks being taken over by the more dominant team members – facilitators need to monitor this
Negative (or Reverse) Brainstorming -Negative brainstorming involves analyzing a short list of existing ideas, rather than the initial massing of ideas as in conventional brainstorming. Examining potential failures is relevant when an idea is new or complex or when there is little margin for error. Negative brainstorming raises such questions as: “What could go wrong with this project?”
Reverse brain-storming is valuable when it is difficult to identify direct solutions to a problem.
After clearly defining a problem or challenge, ask “How could I cause this problem?” or “How could I make things worse?” As with brainstorming, allow ideas to flow freely without rejecting any. Evaluating these negative ideas can lead to possible positive solutions
Nominal group technique -The nominal group technique is a category of brainstorming which is conducted in a way that all participants are able to give an identical say in the process of gathering ideas.
Ideas are gathered in the nominal technique by confirming a level of anonymity. The ideas are than communicated by the facilitator and thereafter voted by the panel of participants. This process used is called distillation.
Post to distillation, the ideas which have been voted, and considered as highly vital should be forwarded for further brainstorming sessions. For instance, the top ideas could be forwarded to specialized brainstorming session in specific: departments, units or groups.
Group Passing Technique -This is a traditional technique of brainstorming used. It is constituted by a group of people who meet together. Then all people will write their ideas on the same piece of paper. The piece of paper will be passed to each member present. The participants will continue to contribute by writing additional ideas on the piece of paper each time they receive it. The paper should be handed-over to the person sitting at your side. This circulation of the piece of paper is usually done in a clockwise direction. Once everyone has contributed their ideas, a broad solution or a bunch of alternative solution might be disposable.
The” Idea Book”, uses the same technique, whereby a book is used to gather ideas. The first page of the book gives a brief description of the problem. People will afterward contribute to solve the problem by writing in the book once they receive it. This process shall continue until the list of ideas becomes exhausted. The problem should thus be solved based on the alternatives gathered in the “Idea Book”.
Team idea mapping method -The team idea mapping method is based on association. The benefit of this method is that it ensures a large volume of different ideas. It does also allow a broader perspective in the variety of ideas.
The topic must primarily be meticulously defined. The methodology of team idea mapping is as follows:
- Participant are suppose to brainstorm individually
- The ideas shall be gathered independently and then combined to form an immense map of ideas, called an idea map.
Eventually, when all candidates are brought together to evaluate the idea map, a broader understanding is established. The participant shall now share and communicate the purpose (meaning) of each of their idea(s). At this phase even more ideas can be construed. The team can lastly prioritize and take action based on the best ideas presented.
Online Brainstorming -Online brainstorming or simply electronic brainstorming is the modern version of brainstorming. It is done virtually, whereby people can be connected from different region and countries. There are many mediums available to perform such an activity. They are mainly:
- Online forms
- Peer-to-peer Chat
Online brainstorming is conducted in the same way as traditional brainstorming the only difference is the absence of physical or visual presence, assuming video-conferencing is not being implemented.
In online brainstorming, the moderator does play a more pivotal role. The facilitator has to communicate with each member, by sending the question, while the participant will usually respond directly to the moderator. It is evident that traditional barrier, such as apprehension, is removed but other aspects such as clarification can be made harder to elucidate. Electronic brainstorming facilitates the coordination of a large group of participants in a session and can thus be proven to be highly efficient.
Directed brainstorming -This is another type of brainstorming technique. Directed brainstorming can be performed manually or with the use of IT (Electronic means). In this method the criteria and conditions for evaluating an excellent idea is known before the session is conducted (Known as solution space). As the criteria have already been established it can purposely hinder the process of ideation.
The participants are given a sheet of paper (if manually done) or an electronic form. The brainstorming question (problem) is then communicated. The candidates are given a respond time, once the respond time is over the papers are swapped to other member’s conduction the brainstorming. The other participant will evaluate the idea and try to improve the idea based on the initial criteria. The swapping process is continued for at least three to four consecutive rounds.
Individual brainstorming -Individual brainstorming is done independently. The most common method of executing individual brainstorming is through free speaking, free writing, spider web, and free writing. Individual brainstorming is often represented through diagrams. Individual brainstorming is considered as more effective than traditional brainstorming.
Justification to run a brainstorming session- One of the first things you need to determine is whether you need to use a brainstorming session at all. A brainstorming session should be used for generating lots of new ideas and solutions. It should not be used for analysis or for decision making. Of course you will need to analyze and judge the ideas but this is done afterwards and the analysis process does not involve brainstorming techniques.
Selection of Topic- A brainstorming session must be targeted to a specific topic or else you run the risk of downgrading any future sessions. A topic or problem can be selected by the teacher or by the class, but should be one that will elicit good response by the group or groups. It might best be phrased as a question. You must define the problem area or the opportunity area you want to create ideas for. You must draw up a specific probortunity (problem/opportunity) statement which describes what you are trying to achieve. This statement must not even suggest what a typical solution might be because this will hinder the idea generation.
It is perfectly acceptable to propose a brainstorming session to investigate a whole area of interest which you wish to explore. You will have no fixed perceptions about the area and can often discover new ideas and markets precisely because you didn’t follow the normal training path. Creative thinkers often suggest that before you do research in a specific area, you should generate your own ideas because if you follow what everyone else has done, you will follow the normal line of thinking and come up with the same or similar answers.
Once you have an initial probortunity statement you should decide whether a brainstorming session is appropriate. The time and costs spent brainstorming can sometimes be saved by just implementing a currently known solution and spending your valuable time on more crucial probortunities. Some problems are best solved by computer simulation or mathematical calculations because they do not need a change in perception. If you are only going to ignore what everyone else suggests then you shouldn’t waste their, or yours.
Decision about the facilitator and participants- Assume you now have a probortunity (problem/opportunity) statement describing what you are trying to achieve or investigate. You have also decided that brainstorming is the most valid approach to your investigation.
Now you need to decide how you will run the session and who will take part. It is important to adjust the style and management of the session depending on the topic and the participants involved.
First you should decide who will lead the session – the facilitator. This person needs to introduce the session, to keep an eye on the time and to make sure the rules are obeyed. This person will facilitate the session to make it run smoothly and ensure that the participants feel comfortable and join in the process. They will also be responsible for restarting the creative process if it slows down.
Next you should decide who will take part Group sizes are often number between 4 and 30 people. More people mean more opportunity for diversity but can lead to nervousness or to frustration if each person is not given enough individual time to suggest ideas.
Preparation of the room and materials -The choice of room will obviously depend on what is available and we will leave this to your creativity if the ideal room is not available. We make the following suggestions and you should adapt them to your own conditions:
To make brainstorming easy, you can use it to start your search for new ideas and is the stimulus required to spark off an infinite number of new ideas:
Arrange people to be seated in a circle with no “head of the table”. Ideally, a round-shaped table is best, though a set of tables in a circle is the usual solution. Otherwise a broad U shape layout is fine. This makes everybody feel equal and when people’s ideas start to flow you will find that the person initiating the session becomes part of the group and can play an equal role without pushing any authority. You could have flipcharts just behind the members (approximately one per two people) and with lots of colored pens. Each person should also have a notepad and pen so that they can write down their personal ideas at the same time as ideas shouted out by other people are being written down elsewhere. Make sure no ideas are lost at any stage.
You may well need an overhead projector if you intend to display the probortunity description and any background information or pictures.
A room which has space around the table in which to move about, but not one which makes the group feel small in comparison, is ideal. Comfortable chairs and tables coupled with refreshments on a nearby table are useful. Providing an object in the middle of the circle gives people something to fix on while thinking and removes the need to look into the face of someone else while suggesting an idea.
A dedicated secretary (or two) whose only job is to grab and write down the ideas is extremely useful. This releases some pressure on the facilitator who can spend more time guiding the process.
Alterations for smaller groups: -Assign class members to different groups which are arranged eliminate any unnecessary interference with one another. Effective operational size of each group to select a chairman and one or more secretaries, the number of secretaries depending upon the size of the group. The number should be adequate to assure that all individual responses will be recorded
Smaller groups are easier to control but there are less people to keep the process moving smoothly onward. Advanced techniques are very useful to kick start the flow of ideas.
A very small group is more like a quick-fire conversation and could be seated round a small table with a large pad of paper covering the whole table surface. Everyone can add their ideas at the same time. Try to move the group close together so they don’t feel remote from each other.
Alterations for larger groups -With large groups it’s impossible to arrange people in a circle without them being too far away to feel part of the group. In this situation you will need to have a theatre-style seating pattern with the facilitator at the front.. If you want to brainstorm with such a large group then you need to have everyone write their ideas down on a notepad or on a computer, use some ideas as stimuli to help people with their personal brainstorming and then gather the pads in afterwards.
Issuing of invitation -When you know who you will be inviting and where it is going to be held, you need to invite everyone Send out invites by post or by email telling people the time and the place and how long the session will last. Suggest just the most suitable time and location for you and specify a date by which they must have replied. Tell them you want a reply whether their answer is yes or no. Let them know the topic of the brainstorming session and let them know how much you appreciate their assistance. You may need to remind people to reply just before the deadline.
Thank everyone for replying and tell them the final meeting place and time and invite those who say they cannot attend to turn up if they change their situation.
You are now ready to run your brainstorming session. Because of your initial preparation your session will run a lot smoother. The next stages of this training course will tell you how to actually run a successful brainstorming session.
Brainstorming sessions are meant to serve as a toll to produce ‘ideas’ that are inspired through creative means. When conducting a brainstorming session, consider the following as key components necessary for an effective methodology:
The team must create a set of rules for the session. Ensure your team has read and understands the rules. Conduct a practice session to teach these brainstorming techniques if most of your team members are new to this concept. Brainstorming ideas for the practice session can be found by clicking on the link
Initiation: Being the discussion by making or by having the chairman make a positive statement relative to the problem. This should serve to stimulate the “train of thought” for the participants.
Announce the objective: Explain the rules: No negativity. Add to ideas. Say it rather than censor it- Write the objective, what you want to accomplish. Distribute it to attendees, and post it for all to see during the session. Write the initial topic on a flipchart, whiteboard, overhead as long as everyone can see it. The better defined and more clearly stated the problem, the more likely that everyone will agree on the issue or statement being brainstormed
Different groups might work with the same or different topics. Insure a clear understanding of the problem by all students. Provide examples where needed to insure comprehension. Allow approximately 30 seconds after the problem has been presented to the group for each individual to organize has thinking on the subject
Stating your challenge is the key component for an effective brainstorming session. Often, participants are not aware of the issue at hand, which in turn leads to solutions that do not solve the problem at hand. The goal should be to bring all participating members on the same platform by clearly stating the challenge at hand. Be sure to ensure that the moderator is clear and concise in addressing the challenge and running a effective session. Define the approach for the class setting forth some anticipated outcomes of the brain storming session. Identify any problems that might likely be encountered
Leave Criticism at the Door- In order to think like a creative, don’t forget your confidence! It is vital that criticism be left outside the session. It only harbors negativity and it will not result in any teamwork. It can also prevent participants from producing ideas as well as sharing them in a group. The ideas that are presented should be used as a benchmark to welcome an increase in discussion for a viable solution.
Enthusiastic Facilitator- The chairman should maintain only a passive leadership role. He is responsible for keeping the group on the subject, stopping any criticism of ideas and generally enforcing the rules prescribed for the technique. The secretary or secretaries must record all comments that are made by individuals within the group
The facilitator sets the environment and the motivation for participants. An enthusiastic facilitator will produce dynamic participation and ensure that the conversation remains on track. Determine the session facilitator; generally the team leader facilitates the session but it could be a Six Sigma Black or Green Belt if the team leader doesn’t have experience in conducting the session
Use Voice Recording-When ideas roll, they roll. It is very common for a great idea to be forgotten when repeated twice. Therefore, it is always a great idea to record the brainstorming session. These recordings can be used as a reference and analysis.
Determine prior to the session who will be writing down the team’s responses-
All ideas presented should be recorded by the secretary or secretaries during the discussion. Assist each group as needed in cooperation with the chairman. The discussion might continue for from five to perhaps 30 minutes, depending upon the nature of the problem, the pace of the group or groups and the enthusiasm of the participants. A one minute warning signal should be given prior to the lapse of time
Comfortable Environment•- Gather your team in a conference room. This is preferred to a classroom setting. A classroom can be used by arranging the tables and chairs in a “U-Shape”. This encourages participation. The environment can make or break your brainstorming session. Your participants should be in an environment that has minimal distractions.
Keep To the Time Limit- Conduct a brainstorm session with a time constraint. It will build a high performance team environment. The time constraint will give participants a sense of urgency to develop ideas that provide results. Creativity requires a great deal of imagination and innovation, which are keys in brainstorming. The mind can only stay stimulated for a certain period of time. That means, if your sessions are stretched out to more than thirty minutes, it may not be as effective. However, you can also consider splitting up the sessions over at different times throughout the day or stretch it out over several days.
Post Active Phase
Ending the Session - After the designated time has elapsed, allow approximately two minutes for each group to categorize its ideas and eliminate any overlapping suggestions. The chairman and other members of the group should assist the secretary in synthesizing key ideas
After the session, collect all the responses and categorize them. Remove any repetitive responses. The Affinity Diagram is a great tool for placing responses into appropriate categories. Then compare the responses against the decision criteria to create a list of potential solutions. Team voting is one way to determine the best possible solution.
Discussion might be accomplished under teacher direction or with the active participation of each group chairman. Briefly review and summarize the major ideas presented in the session.
Determine the extent to which objectives were met. Make appropriate application to the work under study. Plan for any follow-up activities which might relate to the lesion. Record derived from the experience.
Thank everyone. Clarify any points and get a consensus on which ideas should be taken further, what the actions and timescales are. Make sure people know that ALL ideas will be kept and the team leaves the session with the sense that “something has been achieved
Brain Storming Rules
No idea too stupid -There is an ideal solution to your problem and brainstorming is the key to finding it. However, discussing, criticizing or generally dismissing ideas as they come up reduces your chance of finding the secret treasure and render your brainstorming session useless.
Watch the clock -A little time pressure is good for brainstorming, so agree a maximum time for brainstorming, say 10 to 20 minutes, and stick to it. Start and finish on time, and encourage a brisk pace to maximize the time invested in this activity. Maybe assign a time-keeper to own this task.
Record your progress – All your good ideas are wasted hot air if they are not recorded methodically and more importantly, legibly. Consider using brainstorming software such as MindManager, post-it notes, flip charts or other such methods for getting your ideas down. Whatever you choose, make sure you bring all the necessary tools and materials with you!
Quantity not quality -The aim of brainstorming is to churn out as many ideas as you have time for BEFORE you do any reality check on their merits. Through quantity you will find quality, even though it might take some time and effort to get there. Ideas breed ideas.
Encourage the right mindset and have fun- Consider using an ice-breaker or creativity exercise to get group members into the right frame of mind and away from creativity blocking thoughts of unanswered emails, to-do lists and other priorities. And once brainstorming has started, remember performance anxiety will dry up creative juices quicker than a quick thing, so make sure the atmosphere is kept light and fluffy and above all, fun.
Let no good idea go unheard. -Not everyone enjoys brainstorming and group problem solving. Shyness, fear of looking stupid or silly may keep people quiet. Brush up on your facilitation skills and avoid the risk of great ideas being un-spoken or unheard.
- Make sure you’re focusing on the right challenge.
- Invite people with diverse points of view.
- Start with a fun icebreaker to help change mindset.
- Establish “deep listening” as a ground rule. Model it.
- Tell stories, play music, invite humor.
- Go offsite. Put a “meeting in progress” sign on the door.
- Collect all PDAs/cell phones. Establish “no email” ground rule.
- Encourage individuality, risk taking, and wild ideas.
- Ask people to leave their titles at the door.
- Start with divergent thinking. End with convergent thinking.
- Explain that evaluation will happen at the end of the session.
- Explain the follow up process.
- Is a “democratic” way of generating ideas (assuming a good facilitator).
- Is a useful way to get over “design” blocks that are slowing development
- Don’t need to have a highly qualified expert or highly paid consultant to use it
- Easy to understand – it’s not a complicated technique
- It is inexpensive requires few material resources. Is relatively economical in terms of time, does not necessitate any elaborate classroom arrangements and can be effectively used with both small and large groups.
- If controlled properly it is a quick way of generating ideas
- Listening exercise that allows creative thinking for new ideas
- Encourages creative thinking and thinking “out of the box” Encourages creativity. It expands thinking to include all aspects of a problem or a solution.
- You can identify a wide range of option
- Generates ideas and solutions that can be used elsewhere
- Provides an opportunity for widespread participation and involvement
- Equalizes involvement by all team members. It provides a nonjudgmental environment that encourages everyone to offer ideas
- All ideas are recorded
- The results can be used immediately or “preserved” for possible use in other projects.
- Spirit of cooperation is created. One idea can spark off other ideas Stimulates interest.
- The power of association, a spirit of competition, free use of imagination and active participation. Develops an understanding and an appreciation for the thoughts and points of view of others.
- Eliminates time -wasting arguments during discussion and encourages participation by all without the possibility of destructive or cynical criticism by others.
- In a group participants have to listen to others and may spend time repeating their ideas until they get sufficient attention.
- Going through the protocol, processing and ordering the ideas can become a complex procedure. This also depends on the number and order of the generated ideas.
- Advising participants to let others speak without making them feel offended or intimidated can be difficult
- Participants with the ability to express their ideas faster and more effective gain the general attention of the group. Some form of leadership can be formed in this way within the group, which might make participants feel intimidated.
- On the one hand, people are not very skilled at controlling their non-verbal reactions and might influence the creativity of others with their posture, gestures or facial expressions. On the other hand, attempting to control their non-verbal behavior might inhibit their own creativity.
- More discrete or introvert participants might find it difficult to express their crazy or unorthodox ideas.
- Can be unfocused. Students may have difficulty getting away from known reality.
- The enthusiasm of individual members could cause the group to get out of hand or the discussion to be monopolized and necessitate certain control measures can be chaotic and intimidating to introverts.
- Successful brainstorming depends in part upon the understanding of the procedure by the participants and the careful selection of a topic and qualified chairman and secretary.
- Little evaluation and constructive criticism of individual ideas takes place during the discussion.
- The recording of all comments and statements during the session could slow the spontaneous generation of ideas and the overall procedure.
Brown, H.D, 1994 Principles of Language Learning and teaching, Prentice Hall Regents
Richards, J.C., 1990 The Language Teaching Matrix, Cambridge University Press.
Rubin, J 1975. What the “Good Language Learner” Can Teach Us, TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 9, No.1, March 1975.
VanGundy, A. B. (1981, 2nd Ed. 1988). Techniques of Structured Problem Solving. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold
Allen, Roberta, and Marcia Mascolini. The Process of Writing: Composing through Critical Thinking. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice. 1997.
University of Richmond Writing Center. “Writer’s Web.” 1 Apr. 2003. <http://writing.richmond.edu/writing/wweb.html>.
Pallavi Singh M.Ed and Dr Saroj Agarwal Ph.D for being the scribe for this article.