Brainstorming is widely used by teams as a method to generate ideas and solve problems. However, many brainstorming activities are flawed and can end up hurting creativity rather than helping spur ideas. It has been well documented that traditional brainstorming, where groups come together and toss out ideas one by one, is often a flawed process. Issues with brainstorming include:
- Lack of preparation: If participants in a brainstorming session don’t understand the goals of the session in advance, they will come to the session unprepared and significant time will need to be spent ensuring all participants understand the problem before any ideation can take place.
- Limited creativity: Many brainstorming activities focus on generating unique ideas or unconnected solutions to a problem. Creativity, however, is often achieved by elaborating on individual ideas by taking them apart and improving or changing one part at a time.
- Group-think: It’s easy for groups to fixate on the first dominant idea that is expressed, reducing the production of additional ideas.
- Unequal contributions: Traditional brainstorming tends to favor outgoing, extroverted personalities. Without effective facilitation, the group may end up deferring to the most outspoken and animated participants while other participants contribute less to the discussion.
- Fear of judgement: Even with the guidance that “all ideas are valid”, participants may feel the need to “perform” and only contribute ideas that they feel will be well perceived. The fear of contributing “bad ideas” can result in a counterproductive session. Studies have shown that critique and conflict can result in better and more imaginative ideas.
- Confusing next steps: Often, teams will come up with many ideas during a brainstorming session, but struggle with what to do with those ideas.
However, brainstorming doesn’t have to be flawed. It’s possible to structure brainstorming activities to maximize the value that you can get from both individual and group thinking. The following 5 step process can help you conduct better brainstorming sessions:
- Define Goals & State the Problem
- Stimulate Creativity
- Ideate Individually
- Share, Expand, and Critique
- Categorize and Synthesize