Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.
Jim Rohn (1930—2009)
US entrepreneur and motivational speaker
Brainstorming is a useful way of generating new ideas and solutions from a group’s knowledge and experience. In order to create a storm in someone’s brain there shouldn’t be any limitations to the ideas they are allowed to propose. In other words, all suggestions are valid.
Make sure that participants are familiar with the four basic rules:
- Do not comment on or judge ideas.
- Ideas will be forced under time pressure so set a time line and focus on quantity.
- Taking one suggestion and combining it with another is allowed.
- Free association is welcome.
Define and introduce the problem or topic. Perhaps you have material prepared for it. Explain the moderation method you want to use and make sure that it is understood. Any interruptions during the process are not only annoying but hamper it. After the initial brainstorming session, you go through all the ideas and assess their usefulness — not during the initial session!
Brainstorming sessions moderated in different ways could lead to better outcomes. Besides the different techniques mentioned here, you could also use MindMap, Six Thinking Hats, World Café as well as Open Space.
The German consultant Prof. Bernd Rohrbach began this type of brainstorming in 1968 in order to get new ideas and new associations based on already given ones. Therefore, you prepare — according to the number of participants (ideally 6, but this can be increased) — the equivalent number of A4 sheets with columns and six rows. Each participant is asked to write down 3 ideas per column in the first row in readable handwriting. After 5 minutes, the participants pass their sheet of paper clockwise to their neighbour. Building on the word/idea in the row above the participants develop or associate a new one and write just below — for each word. After another five minutes the paper is rotated again. After six rounds you’ll have a maximum of 108 ideas.
The Ancient Greeks knew it thousands of years ago: it’s better to walk around while you are thinking. This method is based on this insight. Every participant gets a marker. You write the challenge or topic as a heading on several large flip chart sheets, which you distribute in different places around the room. Depending on the number of participants let two to three people stand at one flip chart. After the starting signal everybody should write immediately and spontaneously his or her ideas on the flip chart. After a couple of minutes, participants rotate to the next flip chart. You could do several rounds so that people are inspired by what they see as they move around. In the next stage, all groups walk from flip chart to flip chart, discussing the ideas and marking the best ones.
The second option is to tear the flip chart carefully into pieces (alternative: instead of writing on the flip chart hand out cards which participants stick on boards) and build columns on the floor. Step by step you go through the content of one column after another in order to find suitable solutions.
As the name suggests, this method turns things upside down — this method is also known as the ‘Headstand’ or even ‘Destructive Brainstorming’. You start by saying the opposite of what you want, usually something negative. You then reverse the results and develop the positive outcomes further.
For example, you would like to find out what could motivate parliamentarians to vote for a certain bill. So first you would ask what would discourage them to do so. With the results of this round of questioning, you go into a second round and find the reverse of the initial outcomes. For example, if the first round answers were fear, lack of incentives and ignorance in the second round you might deduce protection, incentives, awareness etc.
Research has shown that free brainstorming does not lead to more or better results as often participants are influencing and sometimes blocking other ideas. Nonetheless, it can be an useful means of managing a group dynamic by ensuring everyone’s participation in a solution-finding process.