Fastcompany's brainstorming advice, improved.

Fast Company’s Gina Trapani Worksmart columnist shows how to brainstorm for creative ideas in her recent post Work Smart: Techniques to Boost Creativity.workmartbrain Give yourself lots of room, she says, use mind maps and make sure you’ve got a good pen are just three of the pointers in the 2 minute video. She also shares ways to conduct brainstorming activities online, with others, and on your own.  Some watch-outs about her advice.

Trepani’s short piece couldn’t fit in using the rules for brainstorming. Creativity Professionals use rules or guidelines to level the playing ground and help make it safe to create. The rules were first constructed by Alex Osborn who coined the term over 60 years ago and are useful. They are

  • Defer judgment – evaluate your ideas after they’ve been contributed, no criticism allowed, in other words, all ideas are welcome
  • Focus on quantity – the more ideas you have the more likely you’ll arrive at original ones
  • Welcome unusual ideas – that’s where the originality stems from, often by later connecting the wild ideas with reality to create something very new and different
  • Combine and improve ideas – build on others’ ideas through association, allow for new thinking by building and sparking from others’ ideas

Using the rules is helpful to reinforce behaviours that support free thinking to improve the things as they are; the purpose of brainstorming is to make up new answers.

Trepani suggests getting as many people as possible in the session to get a range of different kinds of ideas.  Research shows that the best number is between 6 – 8.  More than that, and you’ll have to use advanced facilitation methods to make sure everyone contributes.

Fyi, a Businessweek’s, Eight Rules to Brilliant Brainstorming, offers  advice as well.  Among the eight points, three are worthy of mention.

  1. Don’t bother if people live in fear. Yes. The dynamics in the room  have an effect on the experience and outcome.
  2. A good brainstorming session is competitive – in a good way. I disagree – a good brainstorming session is collaborative.  It’s about the best ideas coming forward, not who came up with the idea.  Collaboration rules.
  3. Brainstorming requires skill and experience both to do —and especially — to facilitate.  And how!  Creativity Professionals spend months learning the nuances of interpersonal dynamics and creative thinking tools to use. They experiment with outlines to craft sessions that keep the energy moving and respect how the brain works to facilitate new thinking, paying attention to the language they use and  movement and physical environment in the room.

The Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI)  founded by Alex Osborn in 1954,  is taking place this June in Buffalo, NY.  It’s the place where brainstorming began. If you want to sharpen your brainstorming skills – facilitating it and participating – you might want to check it out.  I’ve attended since 1977, and will be there for this year’s conference as well.

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