At least once a year some self-proclaimed pundit decries that brainstorming is ineffective. Is it? Or is it more likely that brainstorming just didn’t work for what it was asked to do in that instance. Brainstorming is not appropriate for every situation, and is only effective when used appropriately and properly.
Brainstorming is a free-form divergent thinking tool used most frequently to generate a wide range of ideas — including bizarre, silly, obvious or even ridiculous ideas. It is not about who has the loudest voice or about immediately shooting down ideas.
Brainstorming is about letting the ideas flow so that everyone can build on each others’ ideas and trigger more ideas, which are further combined, fine-tuned, and polished.
A successful brainstorm session begins before you gather people together, by thinking through the purpose of your session and by setting clear expectations of what you want out of the session. It also helps to provide some background information on the challenge to be solved, and any constraints that apply.
To get the most out of a brainstorming session use a facilitator to keep the brainstorming on task, to encourage participation and elaboration, and to remind participants to defer judgment.
Once you’ve identified the single idea or a handful of ideas that take you closest to your predefined and articulated goal, there’s more work to be done. Brainstorming is but one component of an effective innovation process.
Use brainstorming in a way that is most appropriate and you’ll reap the benefits.
Long live brainstorming.
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