What is brainstorming?
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Definition of brainstorming
Brainstorming is a creative thinking technique for coming up with new ideas and solving problems. Teams use this ideation method to encourage new ways of thinking and collectively generate solutions. Brainstorming encourages free thinking and allows for all ideas to be voiced without judgment, fostering an open and innovative environment. This process typically involves a group of people, although it can be done individually as well.
This guide will help you get the most out of every creative session. When you're ready to start your next free thinking exercise, jump into Miro’s brainstorming tool to generate ideas and turn them into action.
What is the main purpose of brainstorming?
The primary purpose of a brainstorming session is to generate and document many ideas, no matter how “out there” they might seem. Through this lateral thinking process, inventive ideas are suggested, which sparks creative solutions. By encouraging everyone to think more freely and not be afraid to share their ideas, teams can build on each other’s thoughts to find the best possible solution to a problem. Brainstorming usually takes place in a group setting where people get together to creatively solve problems and come up with ideas. However, it’s also useful for individuals who need to explore novel solutions to a problem. Sitting down by yourself and writing down solutions to potential problems is a great way to brainstorm individually. Focusing your mind on a defined problem allows you to think of many creative ways to get to an answer. While brainstorming normally allows for free-form methods of thinking and doesn’t require many rules, the best results usually stem from controlled sessions. Posing questions and role-playing different scenarios during the brainstorming session is a smart way to pull out unusual ideas and never-before-thought-of solutions.
Benefits of brainstorming
Why is brainstorming such a popular approach to solving problems and generating ideas? Here are some of its many advantages:
Brainstorming sessions are meant to be free of judgment. Everyone involved is meant to feel safe and confident enough to speak their minds. There will be some good and some bad ideas, but this doesn’t matter as long as the final outcome is one that can solve the problem. This kind of free-thinking environment, along with a few essential brainstorming rules, encourage creativity in the workplace.
Fosters collaboration and team building
Brainstorming is not only good for problem-solving. It also allows employees and team members to understand how the people around them think. It helps the team get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and helps build a more inclusive and close-knit workforce.
Generates innovative, revolutionary ideas
Brainstorming is the perfect mix between a free-thinking, creative environment and one that is governed by rules. Being faced with a defined problem or asking questions like “What do we do in X scenario?” forces everyone in the room to come up with ideas and solutions. No two people think alike. So, combining the good parts of everyone’s answers will result in holistic and revolutionary solutions.
Establishes different perspectives
One of the major benefits of brainstorming is that it allows and encourages all members of the session to freely propose ideas. This type of environment fosters courage in people who may not usually offer their perspective on a problem. Garnering a range of different perspectives can lead to a never-before-thought-of solution.
Introduces many ideas quickly
The beauty of brainstorming is that it encourages teams to come up with many ideas in a relatively short period of time. Ideas are thrown around, and every train of thought is documented. Different perspectives give different answers, and sifting through a few good answers in quick succession may lead to the perfect solution in no time.
Types of brainstorming techniques
There are plenty of creative brainstorming techniques to choose from. Here are some of the most popular ones:
In a typical brainstorming session, the group is asked to consider solutions to a problem. This means that they will spend time thinking about the outcome — the end goal — rather than the root of the problem — the starting point. Reverse brainstorming is simply the opposite: teams are asked to ideate on the problem instead of the solution. This type of brainstorming is done before the start of an important project, as it helps teams anticipate any future obstacles that might arise. To help frame this way of thinking, use a Reverse Brainstorming Template to get the team started.
Random word brainstorming
One of the main goals of a brainstorming session is to come up with new ideas. One of the best ways to do this is to say the first words that come to mind when a specific topic or subject is mentioned. Random word brainstorming allows for exactly that. The team is given a problem, and they need to shout out the first words that they think of, regardless of what they are. These words are then written down and later put into interesting combinations to see if they will lead to a usable solution. This brainstorming method is extremely fast and usually very efficient at solving a defined problem. The Random Words Brainstorming Template can help get you started.
The 5 Whys Method
Like the reverse brainstorming method, the 5 Whys method aims to look at the root causes of a problem to stop that same issue from arising again. This method attempts to curb the problem before it can reoccur by asking the question “why?” over and over until it can no longer be answered. Once you reach this stage, you have arrived at the root cause of the issue.
Developed by Bob Earle, an author of creativity books for kids, the SCAMPER model was originally a game aimed at imagination development in adolescents. It has, however, become popular in the corporate world as a means of improving and encouraging creativity in team members when dealing with complex, defined problems. Using this model, your team will view a problem through 7 filters: substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate, and reverse.
Rapid ideation brainstorming is almost the exact same thinking model as random word brainstorming. In this method, however, everyone writes down the solutions they are thinking of instead of shouting them out. This gives participants a bit more privacy with their immediate thoughts — possibly leading to even more creative and revolutionary outcomes.
Once again, brainstorming can change based on the team’s perspective and each session’s expected outcome. Starburst brainstorming focuses on getting the team to ask questions instead of coming up with answers.
How to hold a brainstorming workshop
Ready to harness the power of a well-run brainstorming session? Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to organize a successful brainstorming workshop:
1. Assign a facilitator
When done as a group, a brainstorming session needs to have boundaries. You need to choose someone who will facilitate the session and provide guidelines for the thinking exercises that the group will partake in. This is so the session doesn’t get too scattered and stays on the right track. The facilitator should pose questions and guide the group from start to finish.
2. Establish context and ensure group understanding
A brainstorming session cannot be properly carried out without context. The group must understand why they are meeting and what the end goal of the session is. Everyone should also understand the meaning of brainstorming and what to expect from the brainstorming process. The brainstorming method that will be used should also be established (see point 5) and explained at the outset.
3. Define an objective
While brainstorming is often looked at as a form of free-thinking creativity, it is best to try to stay within certain rules. It’s essential that you define a clear objective and use the session to reach your predetermined goal.
4. Set a time limit
Setting a defined time limit before the session starts is important to the success of your brainstorming session. No doubt your team could come up with countless ideas, but there has to be a limit on how long the session can run. Knowing that you need to solve a problem within one hour, for instance, will help the team focus on the job at hand and come up with ideas faster. It will also keep everyone thinking about the same problem.
5. Decide on the brainstorming technique
The brainstorming technique that will be used must be decided on before the session begins. The best way to do this is to look at the problem at hand. If you’re looking to prevent obstacles from arising in the future, try the “5 Whys” technique. If you’re looking to come up with new marketing ideas or get creative with workplace conflicts, try the rapid ideation technique.
6. Set some ground rules
As stated above, the best and most productive brainstorming sessions are those that allow for free thinking and creativity within preset boundaries. Brainstorming ground rules are essential to to the success of the session, as they keep everyone focused on the topic at hand and ensure that no one goes off track.
7. Capture all ideas
The entire point of a brainstorming session is to come up with as many ideas as possible, regardless of whether the standalone suggestion will lead to success. This means that you need to use the right tools to document the ideas being suggested. Miro has a host of idea-capturing tools, including a simple-to-use visual platform for remote brainstorming sessions and digital sticky notes.
8. Discuss and vote on ideas
After all the ideas have been captured, it’s time to discuss them. The team needs to be productive in choosing a creative idea that suits the problem, or they can try combining a few ideas to come up with a holistic solution. To make decisions as a group and come to an agreement, teams can use the dot voting method. This technique reveals group priorities and helps everyone reach a consensus on the direction to take.
9. Turn ideas into action
Once the final idea has been chosen, it’s time to create a plan of action and a deadline for the idea to be put in place. Transform your ideas into detailed, tangible steps with the Action Plan Template. This will help with coordination between team members and ensures that nothing is missed.
Tips for your brainstorming activities
While all brainstorming sessions look a little different, here are some best practices to get the most out of yours:
Record all ideas
If you want to have a successful and productive brainstorming session, it’s important that you capture every idea suggested, good and bad. An idea might seem silly when first brought up, but it might become an invaluable idea as the session moves on. Capture everything, and right at the end, work out which ideas best suit the problem.
Ensure that everyone’s ideas are heard
When brainstorming is done as a group activity, everyone needs to feel comfortable and confident to propose ideas. The best way to make sure the environment fosters these feelings is to make the session feel like a conversation, not a presentation. Create a safe and open environment that gives everyone equal opportunity to voice their opinions and ideas.
Focus on quantity
People often like to say, "Focus on quality, not quantity," but it’s the opposite when brainstorming. In a brainstorming session, you should focus on getting as many ideas on the board as possible, even if they're only one-word ideas. These can all be used to come to a holistic solution at the end of the session. Each suggestion could be invaluable if you're coming up with a combined idea.
Mix it up
Brainstorming should be a fun and creative endeavor. You shouldn’t be too rigid — though some ground rules are important. If your team has weekly brainstorming sessions, try new brainstorming techniques and activities each time you meet. This will keep your team members on their toes and help make them excited about the next meeting. It will also encourage out-of-the-box thinking, which is essential to any successful brainstorming session.
We’ll say it again: there are no bad ideas in a brainstorming session. This is the attitude that all team members must adopt when entering the session. No one should be criticized for the ideas that they propose. The best way to foster an environment that is devoid of criticism and encourages creativity is to maintain a relaxed approach. This will make everyone feel comfortable and happy to contribute their ideas.
Guide to collaborative brainstorming
When to use brainstorming (and which techniques are best)
What is brainwriting?
What is reverse brainstorming?
How to conduct a brainstorming session
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