Brainstorming Is Beautiful. Here's How to Make It Better
It is fortunate most brainstorming does not take place in life and death situations because most groups do it wrong.
Brainstorming is beautiful; there's no denying. It's a kind of a creative clash of brain powers of the collective and that's why it's more effective than individuals deciding things in isolation.
Typically, it goes like this:
"Let's brainstorm," says the leader and everyone gathers. Around the table or in a circle we hurl ideas forward and at each other while someone hopefully records. If we stay open and respectful that's not too bad. We generate ideas. But we can do it better.
Brainstorming is beautiful but it's possible to make it more so.
The idea of brainstorming alone is counterintuitive. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines brainstorming as a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group and Wikipedia calls it a group creativity technique.
So there it is. We tend to think of brainstorming as a group activity. But it does not have to be limited to or by group thinking. In fact, turning brainstorming into a two- or three-tiered approach will lead to more ideas and better solutions.
It's best to brainstorm alone first. Whether you're a teacher or the boss, you can ask those you lead to write down their ideas before the group brainstorming session. It's important to encourage a range of ideas, starting with reasonable and ending with ludicrous.
This step and the subsequent sharing of all ideas no matter how disparate is what prevents groupthink. Because an individual has an unconscious need to be accepted by the group, he tends to agree with the group more often than he should. As a result, he might shy away from presenting his own, at times more divergent thoughts that could help progress.
Groupthink squashes uniqueness and creativity. Opposite of individual thinking, groupthink curtails the evaluation of alternatives and can lead to irrational decisions if a few dominant personalities can impose their will on others. This can be prevented by individuals generating their ideas before coming to the group table.
Brainstorming With a Partner
One on one brainstorming with someone trusted allows us to share ideas freely. Such partners can debate and disagree respectfully, which is often more effective for vetting and refining ideas than brainstorming in a large group. Being open to hearing each other‘s ideas but challenging them generally leads to better outcomes as well.
The partners can run through all individually-generated ideas providing feedback and working together to combine some thoughts while refining others. Then, they are ready to contribute at the big table.
Brainstorming in a Group
A group consisting of 8 individuals who did their homework has a higher chance of succeeding in making the most rational and beneficial decision. If every participant generated a list of ideas and then partnered with someone to review these ideas she is more likely to share the more polished ideas with the group.
Because many ideas already exist, they can be proposed by all individuals simultaneously and recorded. This will give rise to new ideas to be added to the list. Then, ideas can be evaluated and refined further wherever deemed viable.
For brainstorming to work, we must defer judgment on the quality of ideas until the evaluation stage. In addition, ideas that seem crazy and those that build on others' ideas should be encouraged. No one "owns" an idea in brainstorming so others can feel free to create ideas that branch out from another's original idea.
Thinking and Brainstorming
The three-step approach to brainstorming allows each individual to generate many ideas and spend time thinking about and refining those ideas before the group decision on which idea should be tested first is made.
First, individuals are asked to brainstorm (generate ideas) on their own. Then, they partner up to receive and give feedback on each others' ideas and to combine and refine their thoughts. Finally, they meet as a group to present their individual ideas, come up with new ones, and to make a decision on the proper course of action.
Thus, what we know as traditional brainstorming, a spontaneous group process, is enhanced by adding layers of individual thinking and one on one analysis. In a way, group brainstorming becomes a middle stage in the decision-making process. It is no longer what a group of students or a team of professionals working on a project begins collaboration with.
The benefits of such a layered approach include a higher number and quality of ideas, more developed ideas, and ultimately more informed and effective decision-making.
Or we can just keep throwing a bunch of people in a room together telling them to brainstorm. Hopefully they know how to do that. But I'm not so sure they do. Are you?
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Hi! I'm Oskar.
I teach, write, speak, rant to make the world better.
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