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.