Great, mediocre, meaningless, seemingly useless … These are the ideas that arise from a ‘brainstorming’ session. This technique, in practice for sixty years, has its rules and seeks to stimulate the creativity among groups.
Brainstorming is based on the theory that many meetings fail because, since they arise, ideas are subjected to destructive criticism by attendees, so that they do not have time to mature and perfect themselves. To prevent it, experts devised a really effective method, which he called deferred judgment. It consisted of radically separating the process into two phases. In the first, the group did not issue any judgment on the ideas that were generated. In the second phase, when the sufficient number of ideas had already been generated, a critical and selective examination was carried out.
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The most orthodox brainstormers demand that it be another different group that makes the selection of ideas. In addition, they usually emphasize two factors that determine the quality of a ‘brainstorm’:
- A good address. It is essential that a veteran prepare, order, moderate, control and direct the session. Without a moderator who motivates and controls the attendees, the brainstorm is a waste of time, as situations such as booing can be given to one of the participants.
- The composition of the group. It is better to incorporate people from other departments or areas of the company. You can see the problems from a different perspective than the usual members. It is not convenient for those who understand a lot about a topic or are too involved to participate. It can be counterproductive, as they could create excess ideas similar to the original patterns.
The storm is coming
To carry out a good ‘brainstorm’, it is necessary to follow these steps:
- Individualisation. The moderator will ensure that all attendees know the problem, the procedure and the rules of brainstorming. Each attendee must have a blank sheet of paper and a pen, to write as many solutions as possible.
- Exhibition. A few minutes later, each member of the group exposes the ideas generated, without discussing them.
- Group. Next, the group is armed with post-it, underlines and folios, and dedicates five minutes to do another brainstorming, this time collective, to add more solutions to the same problem. They are written in turns on a blackboard so that they can be seen by all members of the group.
- Comparison. The next step is to combine all the solutions, so that new ideas can be generated.
The 4 P’s
These are the four ‘P’s’ of the ideal brainstorming session:
- ‘People’. All things being equal, a group of creative people by nature will outperform another group of people who are less so. They can see problems from different perspectives and have the ability to quickly produce many different types of new ideas.
The most effective groups consist of four, five or six people, although five is the ideal number. If possible, multiple groups of five people should produce their ideas in the same room. This situation can facilitate spontaneity.
- ‘Process’. To create as many ideas as possible, it is necessary to separate the generation of ideas from the evaluation. Therefore, a good moderator will establish certain minimum rules before starting the session.
The techniques are also fundamental. Groups can start with brain cleaning: participants share their ideas and, from there, new ones are produced.
- ‘Pressure’. It is about the positive and negative influences around the group. External pressures, especially the limitation of time to get ingenious ideas, are often counterproductive.
According to experts, the group must have a fun spirit, with humour and spontaneity. Creating the right environment is not easy. The best way to achieve this is to bring together the most uninhibited group members.
- ‘Product’. The last ingredient to create a session in which effective ideas are generated is to be very clear about how they are produced. Ideally, place all ideas on the same level: those that arise at the beginning and during the meeting, the best and the worst. Any of them can be used to solve other problems at an upcoming meeting.
Orthodox brainstormers ensure that the ideal session should be developed:
– In a room that is not too small, with the chairs arranged in such a way that all attendees can see the board at all times.
– Without telephone that disrupts the session and avoiding trivial interruptions.
– Calculating beforehand how long the meeting can last.
– With a previous list with the problems to be solved and the time dedicated to each one.
– Summoning the right people, depending on the topic.
– Not forgetting a good battery of pens, abundant ‘post-it’, colour highlighters.
– Finally, in the event that the meeting is held regularly, it would be convenient to check from time to time that it is still useful and, therefore, does not mean a waste of time.
Brainstorming is essentially used in three specific phases: problem identification, analysis of its causes and search for concrete solutions.
In all these stages, this technique constitutes a very effective instrument. The group moderator should review the topic of the session using questions such as: why?, how? than? when?
– The problem raised in the session is the development of a course on automobiles. The objective is clearly set: “What topics should be addressed during the course?” Then, each member of the group thinks silently and writes what they have devised on paper. The group moderator must ensure that the standards of ‘brainstorming’ are met: shifts, goals, etc.
– Next, each participant suggests their ideas by saying them aloud, until all the ideas are written on the board. Among all the answers, for example, the following are selected:
- Types of cars.
- Parts of cars.
- Car manufacturers.
- Categories of cars.
- How they work.
– Final selection. When all ideas have been registered, they should be combined with each other with some logic. 1. Car types and 4. Car categories are practically identical concepts, so point 4 is eliminated.
– Subsequently, all chosen ideas are listed.
– Each member of the group votes what they consider best, preparing a list that should not contain more than one third of the total ideas presented by the whole group.
– After the count, ideas are separated with only one or two votes. Then we proceed to vote again among the ideas that have won three or four votes. If there is no clear winner, it is time to vote again or hold a debate on the remaining ideas, and clarify which one gives the best answers to the initial question.
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