Introduction to Brainstorming Methods
Brainstorming is a technique where a group of people gather or join over the network to venture ideas and discussion. This falls under a group creativity technique. The outcome of the brainstorming is an effective conclusion for a certain problem with a solution.
Brainstorming depends on spontaneous value contribution by all the involved stakeholders.
Brainstorming can be divided broadly into two groups:
- Individual brainstorming
- Group brainstorming
As per Osborn, there are two basic principles that drive, “ideative efficiency”. They are as follows-
- Defer judgment
- Reach for quantity
Based on these two principles the general 4 rules are as follows-
- Go for quantity over quality in terms of generating ideas.
- Withhold criticism rather discard an idea.
- Welcome wild ideas from a new perspective without bothering the implementation details.
- Combine and improve the ideas by using association.
- Bring new ideas on board.
- Significantly increased the overall creativity of the group.
- Deduce social inhibitions in the group members.
Ideal group member count for effective brainstorming. As per Osborn, ideal count of group members should be 12-15 (Maximum 20).
Disadvantages-Idea formulation is a long term process due to several rounds of discussion or on-hold sides and criticism.
Nominal group technique
This is a voting-based technique where group members generate ideas individually and write them anonymously. The coordinator or facilitator collects all ideas then picks them one by one.
Group members can vote for every idea (distillation). Once distillation is completed the top voted ideas are given to group or subgroups for the next level of discussion. After a brainstorming phase, each sub-group presents their ideas in front of the whole group.
During this process, a previously discarded idea can be activated and brought forward for further discussion.
Group passing technique
A group of people sits in a circle. The initiator writes an idea on the paper and passes the paper to the next person. The next person ads his own idea and passes to the next person. This process goes on till all the ideas are written on the paper and group is exhausted the list of ideas is often termed as ‘idea book’.
This technique can generate huge idealist which may be further picked up for discussion. It is a very long process.
Team idea mapping method
This technique works on the association by collaborating better and increasing the number of ideas. In this technique, all participants are encouraged to provide their ideas to a predefined problem. No ideas are rejected initially.
Once all individual ideas are gathered they are combined into a large idea map. During the integration of the ideas, group members understand the pros and cons of the ideas they shared.
It is also possible to bring out completely new ideas while discussing and integrating into the map. Once the map is full, the group can discuss further steps on how to carry forward the ideas.
Brainstorming can also happen over the network via computer using the following tools-
- Interactive web sites
- Chat room
- Portal based idea generation.
The software that can be used for electronic brainstorming are-
- Group systems (University of Arizona)
- Groupware (University of Arizona)
- Software Aided Meeting Management (SAMM). (University of Minnesota).
These software aid Electronic Brainstorming process where group members are not co-located and work on overlapping time zone or on a different time zone.
Electronic Brainstorming systems can accumulate the post of ideas automatically. Portal based idea generation technique can allow group members to post a comment, argument, and discussion anonymously. Electronic Brainstorming provides a longer time for thinking response than traditional brainstorming process.
The only downside of Electronic brainstorming is the idea page may get a huge number of ideas at a time. This may become very tough for individuals to go through, analyze and process them.
Directed Brainstorming is another flavour of electronic brainstorming process that can be carried manually or with computers. Directed Brainstorming is best when we know the solution space. Mostly this technique is not used to find a solution rather how to improve the solution.
In this process, the group members are given a piece of paper or electronic form. Group members then write down their own single idea. The papers are exchanged among the group members. The members then write one more idea based on the initial criteria. This process continues until all ideas are exhausted in order to improve the solution.
The owner along with the group picks up the sheets/forms to further discuss. During the discussion, a concrete plan of actions is created.
In Guide Brainstorming process, time and perspective are fixed for individual or group to brainstorm. Guided Brainstorming provides a balanced environment to engage every participant in creative thinking and removes conflicts and constraints.
In this technique, group members play a different role with different mindsets. They contribute to the idea from their perspectives. Multi-perspective ideas to the solution are well guided and become simple, conflict-free.
After the guided brainstorming, group members pick the most suitable ideas and further brainstorm, do more research, clear all doubts, prioritize and finally produce the best full proofed actionable ideas for better success.
Individual brainstorming is a process where each member of the group does brainstorming alone and on his/her own. It allows free speaking, free documentation, free drawing of a mind map. When applied visually, this can bring out the best idea’s hidden one’s mind and produce a great result.
Studies yielded that individual brainstorming can generate great results, often better ideas compared to a group brainstorming.
However, note that individual brainstorming can take priority if the group is having a blocking issue. (group members pay a lot of attention to other’s idea, engage in criticizing those people, idea but not get time to create and venture their own ideas).
Question-based Brainstorming is known as ‘Questorming”. It provides the group members with a set of questions in written and printed or an electronic medium. The object of this technique is not to come up with quick answers and short term solutions rather provide the next source of actions.
The list of questions is set and prioritize as per need. This technique is applied when the group does not need a solution.
In this technique, group members are divided into three subgroups (referred to as condition)
The rules are-
- A flat fee is given to all participants (condition-1)
- In the second condition, participants are awarded for any unique idea one of the group members contribute. The points the earned are equivalent to the fee.
- In condition three- Each member is paid based on the impact of the idea on the group.
The condition-II defeats condition-I and in the second level, condition-III defeat condition-II.
Finally, the best idea is evaluated. In this technique, group members need to work longer to get as unique result for the expectation of compensation.
In this process, the moderator provides a situation and asks the group about the reaction and how to come out of the situation. Each member’s responses are noted then brainstorm find the proper solution. During this process, each step are challenged to get a better insight into an individual’s response.
In case, group members cannot find time to participate in the brainstorming process, moderators find it impossible to schedule a session. In the case of group members are not willing to venture their ideas in front of a large group.
In those cases moderators allow the group member to generate ideas in silo mode.
The Five Whys
This technique is used to get the ideas going by moving forward. In this technique, the moderator tries to dig deeper and deeper by questioning the group with a series of whys sequentially. The team comes up with the solution of every why by going to the root of the problem.
This technique is a question-answer based solution to a given problem. Moderator uses a six-pointed star where. Center of the star talks about the challenge or opportunity. The point of the star having words- who, what, where, how, when, why. With these words, the moderator creates questions about and around the problem/challenge. A group needs to find solutions for every question.
SWOT stands for S-Strengths, W-Weakness, O-Opportunities, T-Threat. In this technique, the group tries to find out if a potential project, product, the venture is going to rock the market. These factors are put in paper and group brainstorm about the fruitfulness.
This technique focuses more on problem-solving by along zing the problem with the proper tools. This type of brainstorming is relatively easy and provides a quick and creative solution. As it is driven by data and several analytical models, no one is hurt or embarrassed.
In this technique, group members use a visual tool to describe the idea better. Moderator can allow creating a drawing to aid the solution. This technique uses a layer by layer approach to map context to the solution with the help of those diagrams and drawings. There are several mind mapping software available on the internet.
While the traditional brainstorming put stresses on solving a problem, Reverse brainstorming focuses on to select reasons to cause a problem. So, it starts with a problem then finds out how and what causes this problem. The list of the cause that causes the problem then sorted and put forward to solve.
So here, the moderator provides a situation and asks the group about the reaction and how to come out from the situation. Each member’s responses are noted then brainstorm to find out the proper solution. During this process, each step is challenged to get a better insight into the individual response.
In this technique group brainstorms to find out the actual drivers that cause a problem. Some examples are-
- What are the drivers for the low productivity of the team?
- What are the drivers for low team morals?
- What are the drivers for low customer loyalty and low customer return?
- What are the drivers for low sales volume?
In the brainstorming process, the group tries to find out the drivers behind a problem and tries to solve them.
In this technique, moderator helps to choose a prominent figure of fiction or history (like- Superman, Tintin etc.) then discuss how he/she (that character) can manage the given challenge or uptake the opportunity. Moderator may ask lots of why, how etc. to go deep into the discussion. Interestingly, introverts are more productive in this process.
Figure storming is sometimes called as Atter Egos/Heros technique.
Trigger storming is another flavour of the round-robin approach. A moderator helps to start the discussion with one/many trigger (s) to the group to come up with ideas. This is also known as provocation system.
This process often becomes boring, mostly unfruitful and most importantly time-consuming. In this technique, the whole problem is broken down into smaller actionable points, accordingly, the bigger group is also broken sown smaller subgroups.
Then each subgroup is assigned with smaller parts of the problem. Each group independently brainstorm and come up with a solution. Once the whole subgroups are regrouped the idea/solution becomes more accurate and refined.
What if Brainstorming-
It is a refined version of Figure Storming. The only question to challenge a solution is what if ………… using sequential what-ifs, moderator tries to cover all possible perspective.
Like- What if Tintin faces this issue? How will he manage? What if Tintin get sales down? Etc.
Six Thinking hat’s
This technique was crafted by Edward de Bono. This method outlines six different coloured hats. These colours depict different ways of thinking about a related problem. The moderator chooses the colour and definition of code of the colour. Example- White hat tells about need more information.
Six hat colour code
- Black- The ideas are having criticism and caution. So the solution may go wrong.
- White- Ideas are based on research, evidence and supporting number facts known or required.
- Yellow- The ideas are positive with pragmatic thinking and optimistic.
- Red- The ideas are out of feelings and emotions.
- Green- The ideas are creative with new original thinking. They may be unusual nature.
- Blue- In the court of the moderator to take a call.
Design Beach Ball
This technique was invented by Verne Ho. In this technique, a beach ball is used to determine whose turn to provide the idea. In this method, almost everybody needs to talk. Due to the fun in passing the ball and the enthusiasm required. It is more suited for junior members.
This technique is useful to design a quick and rapid idea generation within a specified time limit. Each group members are provided with a sheet (paper) with eight boxes in it. The group members need to put their ideas in those boxes within the time specified by the moderator.
Once all 8 ideas are written, the group is required to present the top 3 ideas to the group members to brainstorming.
Each box is having some colour code (predefined by moderator) to vote. Eventually, when group exhausts the first three ideas, the moderator may go for 5 ideas. Finally, all ideas voted highest are taken for further development.
Create a list of very ideas. In this process do not care about writing a full sentence; few words can be put to venture. Group members do not need to care about spelling as well.
3 Perspective principle
This technique talks about judging the idea/solution from 3 different perspectives. This is a very systematic process to come up with a conclusion about an idea.
- Describe it- Describe the topic in details.
- Trace it- related research about the topic.
- Map it- find the correlation and influences.
In this technique, group members pull off the lists of words or related phases for a given topic. It often follows 3W principle-
- W- One word for a topic.
- W- One or max three words for thesis.
- W- A word or max a sentence for the idea.
Cube technique generates topics to brainstorm for a given topic from six different perspectives.
The six tops of Cube as-
- Describe the solution/idea.
- Compare the solution/idea with the other ideas.
- Associate the solution/idea with other relevant ideas.
- Analyze the solution space for betterness.
- Apply the outcome check the correctness.
- Challenge the idea for refinement.
This is a technique the moderator writes problem statements in a sentence where key components are removed. Group members brainstorm to find out the correct phases to make the problem statement better. This technique is then used to speed up the solution-finding.
In this technique, group members write many words, phases on the sheet in random order then try to link them to create a meaningful map or web. Each word is considered as a node. Connecting the nodes will create a proper solution.
SCAMPER is a process-based technique to expand and improve ideas generated by group members. The full form of SCAMPER is as follows-
- S- Substitute-Analysis of the impact during mapping.
- C- Combine-Analysis of the impact during combining.
- A-Adapt- Analysis of the impact and required changes to accept the solution in a different context.
- M- Modify- Analysis of the modification to create more value.
- P- Put to another use- Analysis of the usage of the solution.
- E- Eliminate- Analysis of the removal of parts of the solution to simplify it.
- R- Reverse-Analysis of the solution to make it more effective.
These parameters help the moderator, stakeholders to understand the solution from different angles.
Word banking technique is used to associate words which are much more meaningful and sophisticated. Using this technique moderator breaks down the project into manageable smaller parts by using the word bank.
Once the group finishes creating the word banks, the group tries to use a similar technique as a Mind map to map them to craft the solution.
Zero draft technique is mostly used by content writers for focused free writing. This is really helpful to busy executives like marketers or grocery professionals to know the topic and initial ideas just come out from one’s brain into the paper.
The zero draft does not advice to be an artist or professional painter to create visuals rather it talks about how the collective group thinking is coming out and how it looks visually. The idea here is to get a final image of the idea for further discussion. It may discover some hidden connections.
Story Boarding is a visual technique that helps to collect information about the problem and the proposed solution. Storyboard once started to fill up with ideas shows how the issues and solutions take to each other so that the group can quickly analyze the impacts without reading the contexts.
Sticky notes, physical pin ups, pictures, graphs, user info etc. can be part of the storyboard.
Eidetic Image method
This is another visual technique invented by psychologist Jacqueline Sussman. Author Jacqueline proposed group members must close their eyes and put concentration on the design of the intended problem and come up with a solution.
Each problem is different, thinks different and finally come up with a new idea image.
Once all images are thought, the actual brainstorming starts. The best design is further challenged and brainstormed how it can be made better by choosing colours, size, features etc.
Working Backward is popular in Amazon. (Mike George, Amazon Echo used this technique). In this technique, a reverse mind map is used keeping the end user’s demand in mind. Here the solution is already known, but the dots that need to be connected to achieve the goals are discussed.
This technique finds out the current course of actions by checking past and future actions. The moderator just states where the group stands now and what is the end goal. The group members thus come up with ideas on how the company can mitigate the gaps. Each idea is then brainstormed to find out the best.
Brainstorming in Six Sigma
Brainstorming is an essential tool for six signs too-
- Find the root cause of issues. (Fishbone diagram, cause-effect diagram, 6M identification (Machine, Materials, Method, Mother Nature, Measurement, People).
- To do deep with 5why.
- Identifying SIPOC (finding input and output).
- Create a project charter.
- Produce flows of a process map.
- Determine measuring data.
In this technique, the moderator makes sure that everybody can speak by making them comfortable… Then he/she opens the floor for flooding with ideas. Finally, the moderator summarizes the ideas for review and finalization.
In this technique, the moderator distributes the ideas to all group members along with five sticky dots. Group members put dots against the ideas. They can put all five dots to a single idea if they feel the idea is very important. Once all the dots are in place the moderator starts further brainstorming on how to update or take it forward.