7 Tips for Brainstorming

By Mark Nichol

Whether you’re trying to develop the topic of an essay or the plot of a short story, or you and some of your colleagues have been assigned to propose an idea for a product or a project, a brainstorming session is a means to a successful outcome. Here are some tips for the brainstorming session’s procedure.

1. Create ground rules: Withhold comment on or evaluation of items during the initial brainstorming session; just record them. Accept every suggestion, unless the person who suggested it retracts it (and even then, the group can override the retraction). Respect others and their ideas. Be uninhibited and imaginative.

2. Set a time limit based on whether you’re brainstorming on your own or based on the number of fellow brainstormers — five minutes, fifteen minutes, half an hour. (Longer periods will probably produce diminishing returns.)

3. Create a mind map — a constellation of main topics and subtopics or of related points — on a large sheet of paper, a whiteboard, or another surface that all participants can see, or simply list suggestions in roster form.

4. Don’t go into details about any item, though other items inspired by a detail can be added to the list.

5. Don’t stop the initial brainstorming session until the time is up. If the individual’s or group’s momentum falters, review the list to prompt new items, or explore details or tangents.

6. If, despite the additional efforts described in the previous point, no new ideas are produced, search for random terms in a dictionary, a pertinent document or publication, or any written content.

7. Don’t stop brainstorming just because what seems at that moment to be an ideal suggestion seems to obviate further progress. Mark the item for emphasis and keep brainstorming.

At the end of the session, organize the list sequentially or by headings and subheadings. Then discuss the merits of the list items and reduce the list to a manageable number of items.

If the goal is to select or recommend one item or a short list and report results to one or more other people, produce those results and, if necessary, draft a proposal or assign brainstorming group members to do so after the meeting. Then, reconvene in person or distribute proposal materials electronically to finalize the proposal.

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5 Responses to “7 Tips for Brainstorming”

  • swolfearch

    Then do something!

    If you don’t, it’s nothing but a – sometimes – fun way to pass time. I work with a couple of groups that have annual brainstorming sessions. Each year, the same things are brought up, everyone oohs and aahs as if each thing is a revelation, results are grouped and discussed, everyone says it was a great experience, the leaders congratulate everyone and promise to implement some of the ideas – and then everyone leaves and nothing happens.

    And they wonder why I can’t stand brainstorming.

  • Matt Gaffney

    Don’t get caught in the “brainstorming-group” tar-baby!

    Research shows unequivocally that brainstorming groups produce fewer and poorer quality ideas than the same number of individuals working alone, yet firms continue to use brainstorming as a technique for generating ideas. This continuing use of an ineffective technique is interesting psychologically. From a practical viewpoint, understanding why brainstorming is usually ineffective, and why people still do it, gives a basis for suggesting how managers can improve the way they use it.

    Independent studies support the long-held notion that many managers use brainstorming groups to make employees feel good about themselves because they’re included in the brainstorming groups (“Gosh, I’m valued by my manager!”), rather than to generate new ideas. It’s one way managers massage employees’ egos, thereby increasing productivity and building loyalty.

    The research cited below deals primarily with brainstorming groups. Individual brainstorming is an entirely different matter.

    Go to “Business Strategy Review,” Volume 11, Issue 4; Article first published online: 06 January 2003; and “The New Yorker,” “Group Think,” by Jonah Lehrer, 30 January 2012.

  • Terrence

    Interesting read. Some of the things listed I had read about before, others are new to me. I haven’t been a part of an actual brainstorming group, but I do tend to “try” to brainstorm on my own. I will definitely apply these practices to my system next time I’m coming up with a new plot 🙂

    On that point, I’d like to share my blog link with everyone. It’s a shameless plug I know, but I’m new to the blog scene 🙂 I will have some fantasy fiction produced for it soon. Right now it’s mostly sports with the NBA finals just wrapping up, but I do have big plans for literature, as it’s a major passion of mine. Do let me know what you think!

    interestroot.blogspot.com

  • Glen Palmer

    One of the best things about brainstorming is you get the best out of a group of like minded individuals. I think one of the most important part of the brainstorming session has to be the mind map. That’s the first thing I start off with. With it being visual, it’s easy to create ideas around your initial topic.

    Good Post, keep it up.

  • Rita

    Great article, interesting comments. I guess one qualifier for even doing a brainstorming session is people have to genuinely want to. It brings to mind the saying, ‘a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.’

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