In a Brainstorming Quandary? Get over it and get on with generating ideas.

Just saw another newsletter on brainstorming because of our friend Jonathan Lehrer’s assertion that it’s dead.  Can we please move on beyond the hyperbole?

good ideas and problems - morning session brai...

good ideas and problems - morning session brainstorming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s the scoop.  Brainstorming describes a process of people generating ideas using a few rules. Ad exec Alex Osborn coined the term in a number of books, Your Creative Power: How to Use Imagination (1948) and Applied Imagination (1953). Since its arrival as a concept, meme and practice over 60 years ago, brainstorming received attention both as a panacea and a ne’er-do-well. Dr. Gerard Puccio, director of the International Center for Studies in Creativity, cites research in his blog post The Demise of Brainstorming Has Been Exaggerated: A Reply to Lehrer’s Piece in The New Yorker that is worthy of a look-see for evidence of its efficacy.

Many people are familiar with the practice of brainstorming and not its guidelines.  Here they are as remembered from my studying at the International Center for Studies in Creativity in the late 1970’s:

  • Defer judgement (evaluate ideas only after many are collected)
  • Quantity breeds quality (the more ideas generated, the better the ideas get)
  • There are no such things as bad ideas (each one has some quality that contributes to a successful outcome directly or indirectly)
  • Freewheel (feel free to suggest ideas that are beyond the scope of traditional ones; seek unusual ideas and connections)
  • Hitchhike (build on other people’s ideas)
  • Use techniques deliberately
  • No editorializing (keep the ideas short and sweet)
  • Write them down (capture ideas as they emerge, rather than not because they are easily forgotten)

The ideas are reviewed and criteria applied after the brainstorming is concluded so new decisions can be made. [FYI, new criteria are often needed for this to occur. These can be brainstormed as well.]

The success of a brainstorm session can be judged in many ways:

  • number of ideas
  • number of new ideas
  • number of far out ideas
  • quality of ideas
  • level of participation of people involved
  • number of good ideas worthy of using in short, medium and long-term

Then another question emerges – what is the success of the session due to?  The facilitator, the prepping of the group, how well-practiced the participants are in brainstorming, the definition of the brainstorm subject, the environment in which the session is held, the number of breaks people have, the kinds of tools used to inspire new thinking, the group dynamic, the personality styles of the players, performance pressure, feelings and emotions of the people involved, the position of the session champion and his/her influence, the openness of communication?  Many variables are at play and each is paid attention to by a skilled creativity professional who wants to make sure client/group experiences success.

Bottom line: What is brainstorming really all about from my point of view?  People being able and open to behave so that they

  • say yes to ideas that would normally receive a no
  • deliberately use imagination instead of going for the ‘pat’ answers
  • risk new viewpoints and alternative options
  • play with perceptions
  • use many different thinking tools that support bold thinking

Don’t let the current brainstorming conversation deter you from generating new ideas (and generating/using new criteria by which to assess them). Just get on with it.  Imagine what would happen if you didn’t.





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