Brainstorming is about broadening the base – not tightening the screws. The goal is to generate many different ideas over a short period of time without evaluation, criticism or commentary.
Strategic Futuring, a vision-centered strategic planning workbook developed by a team of facilitators at Michigan State University Extension, suggest brainstorming is a useful divergent or ‘idea-expansion’ tool. A tool that can:
- Foster creativity by encouraging people to think beyond the conventional
- Record all ideas, with clarification and discussion later in the process
- Take advantage of a synergy that occurs when people think creatively together
- Equalize the influence of all members of the group by posting and considering everyone's ideas.
As defined in the Strategic Futuring workbook, “Brainstorming is a structured process with specific rules that encourages the generation of a large quantity of ideas in a group setting”
The key to initiating a successful brainstorming session is to develop clear guidelines, which are written on a flip chart or white board and large enough for the whole group to review and reference later in the process. The group leader should review each guideline and ask for the groups input, understanding and agreement. Changes or additions may be added based on group consensus.
A few excellent guideline examples from the Strategic Futuring workbook include:
- All ideas are okay. Don’t censor your ideas.
- Aim for quantity not quality.
- Wild ideas are Ok – they may generate usable ideas.
- Do not discuss, evaluate, criticize or comment on ideas during the idea generating period.
- It is ok to build on others’ ideas.
- Say ‘pass’ if you run out of ideas.
The most efficient group size for brainstorming is 3-8 people. If the group is larger, they can be divided into smaller clusters. The time it takes to complete a successful session depends on the group itself and the quantity of ideas generated. The process of generating ideas can be structured (round robin – one person at a time, moving clockwise or counterclockwise around the group) or popcorn style (participants ‘shout-out’ ideas in no particular order). Participants should be allowed to pass their turn without issue.
It is important to allow plenty of time for ideas to flow, but not drag; keeping the process moving. When people have run out of ideas, it may be beneficial to allow a few minutes of quiet time, to think and reflect. Sometimes the best ideas emerge during a second round of brainstorming.