Brainstorming is an idea generating session that is performed in a relaxing, informal atmosphere to promote problem-solving and lateral thinking without pressure. The idea is to bring all of the seemingly outlandish things people could be thinking about to the table and snowball each other to generate more creative thinking.
In his book Value-Focused Thinking, Ralph Keeney, a professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, suggests most companies conduct a brainstorming session incorrectly. Instead of simply buying everyone pizza and spending an hour throwing around ideas, he suggests teams enter a brainstorming session only after performing these 4 essential tasks:
Define the problem you want to solve
It may seem like common sense, but you and your team must clearly define a problem before you can fix it. Having the problem laid out in 1-2 sentences will enable everyone to head toward the exact same goal. According to Keeney, you should come up with multiple ways to label or describe the problem and then choose the one that portrays the issue best.
Fine tune your objectives
Honing in on your objectives may take time, but it’s an important way to uncover the trouble spots hidden within your overarching problem. Keeney gives an example of the firm IDEO brainstorming a design that would enable cyclists to drink coffee while riding their bikes. The problem could be solved by spill-proof coffee lids or bike cup holders, but the firm found that a better objective would be to help bike commuters drink coffee without spilling or burning their tongues. This statement is Keeney-approved since it describes each of IDEO’s objectives to assist bike commuters: to drink coffee, avoid spills, and not burn their tongues. By going into a brainstorming meeting prepared with multi-faceted objectives, you and your team can tackle each of the factors contributing to your problem and avoid deviating from the ultimate goal.
Generate possible solutions individually
Before holding a group-brainstorming meeting, it’s important to have all attendees develop an individual list of proposed ideas or solutions to the defined objectives. At the Ohlmann Group, we like to be prepared for our brainstorming sessions by developing ideas individually before coming together as a team.
Keeney states, “Most brainstorming sessions skip this step. Instead, the group comes up with solutions. The danger is that having everyone together during the initial brainstorm can result in a sort of ‘group think’ instead of individual ideas.”
Groupthink is the psychological phenomenon that occurs when a group of people make an irrational decision, usually due to their desire to maintain harmony and conformity. In essence, groupthink discourages creative thinking. Avoid this pitfall by coming prepared with ideas before your meeting, allowing them to change and evolve as others’ ideas are introduced.
Collectively find the most effective solutions
Now that your team is armed with their individual ideas, it’s time to put your heads together to brainstorm a solution. Ideally, your group should be composed of people with a variety of backgrounds to come up with multiple creative ideas and solutions. When you take the time to define your problems, objectives, and ideas, your brainstorming sessions can be very productive meetings. By generating highly defined ideas before the brainstorming session actually begins, your wide variety of experts can work together to choose the most effective suggestions for the problem at hand.
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