“The deepness of your mind produces the thickness of your thoughts.”
By Michael Bassey Johnson
Brainstorming is a creative thinking technique used to stimulate the production of a large number of ideas, by a group, about a problem and its solutions or, in general, on a subject that requires original ideas.
The brainstorming was proposed in 1939 by Alex F. Osborn, who began using a procedure that allowed the emergence of creative and original ideas as a method of problem solving. Later, in 1953, he systematized his creative method of solving problems.
He proposed a method to stimulate the formulation of ideas in a way that facilitated the freedom of thought when trying to solve a problem. This consisted of a procedure by which a group tries to find a solution to a specific problem by accumulating all the ideas expressed, spontaneously, by its members.
He observed how, generally, when analyzing a problem certain ideas were declined before having been submitted to a minimum evaluation. These ideas were original, they departed from the ordinary and provoked an automatic rejection.
Another key factor that he considered is that these group sessions can reach a high level of productivity because of the power of association. When one of the members of the group emits an idea, almost immediately stimulates their own imagination towards the appearance of another. At the same time their ideas instigate the power of association of the other members of the group, in a process of “contagion”.
These are the four main principles in the development of a brainstorm:
- Criticism is not allowed. No critical comments or gestures that show mockery or skepticism are allowed. The judgment on ideas is postponed.
- Freedom of thought is indispensable. It must be stimulated, constituting a basic component. The most risky idea, the most original, can be the best solution.
- The quantity is fundamental. The greater the number of ideas, the higher the likelihood of useful ideas emerging. In the application of the brainstorm, the production of a large number of them is essential.
- The combination and improvement must be put into practice. In addition to contributing their own ideas, the members of the group have to suggest how to improve other ideas and combine them to synthesize better ones. It is easier to perfect an idea than to produce a new one.
The fact of obtaining a large number of them does not seem to have a negative influence on the quality of them. Stimulating the production of a high number of ideas is a key factor, without this implying loss of quality.
Although Osborn is based on the effect of chain reaction (consisting in that the idea expressed by one member of the group will stimulate new ideas in the others, which in turn will induce other ideas), the review of other studies indicate that the initial production of ideas, materialized individually, is superior to when it takes place in a group.
However, although the individual work is superior to the group in the first phase of generation of ideas, the group is much more effective when it comes to combining and refining the ideas exposed.
The phases of a brainstorming session are:
1. Presentation of the brainstorming session.
The session should begin with an explanation of the task, its objectives, the procedure to be followed and the duration of the work session.
2. Generation of ideas.
The subject is displayed in a visible way on a blackboard, stand or screen, so there is no doubt about it. It must be ensured that it has been correctly understood by all the participants. It is advisable that it be raised in the form of a question.
It is convenient to establish an objective about the number of ideas to reach. At a minimum, propose about 40 ideas for a group of around 6 people. It is demonstrated that the objective has to be fulfilled.
3. Improvement of ideas.
The facilitating role of the facilitator is critical here. Once all the ideas have been exposed, it is necessary to make sure that they have been understood. For this, they will be reviewed, asking the participants if there are doubts or if they want to make a comment.
The combination, the reworking, the synthesis of one or more ideas is applied.
The evaluation of ideas can be done in the same brainstorming session at a later time. Result of the evaluation is the reduction of the list of ideas to a number in which it is feasible to work with them, being the individual vote for the selection of the final ideas is the best method to predict the ideas of success. In this sense, it is essential to have a structured procedure, such as multiple voting.
There are two formats depending on the way of expressing the ideas:
This mechanism is indicated when the facilitator does not have much experience or it is presumed that an unbalanced participation may arise (some participants produce a number of ideas much higher than the others). In this way a balance is established that allows the balanced intervention of all the members.
It is the usual method. The ideas are expressed as they arise in the mind of each participant. In this case, the facilitator should pay special attention to the participation being complete and the contributions reasonably distributed.