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A Toolbook for Quality Improvement and Problem Solving (contents)

Brainstorming: How to do it

The Quality Toolbook > Brainstorming > How to do it

When to use it | How to understand it | Example | How to do it | Practical variations


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How to do it

  1. Start with a clear, open and unambiguous statement of the problem that you want to address. Thus 'Theme for company picnic' is better than 'Possible formal celebration this summer'.


  3. Appoint a facilitator to organize and run the Brainstorming meeting. Look for a person who is skilled in facilitating, who has no strong opinions about the problem and who the potential Brainstorming group will respect in that role. If possible, also appoint a recorder (if this is not possible, the facilitator may take this role).


  5. Form a group of between five and eight people who may contribute to the problem. Look for complementary, rather than supplementary knowledge, to allow for the broadest range of inputs. Try to avoid including people who may antagonize or inhibit one another.


  7. Lay out the meeting room with participants facing one wall, on which is a whiteboard or flipchart. Thus they face the problem, not one another. Prominently display the description of the problem to solve, which may be of the form, 'How can we ... ?'


  9. In the meeting, the facilitator focuses the group by describing the four rules of Brainstorming (which he will help to drive during the meeting):

    1. No criticism or debate. Absolutely no negative talk allowed. Focus on the problem, not each other. Suspend judgment until later.
    2. The sky is the limit. The wilder the ideas the better. Crazy ideas often lead to useful ideas.
    3. Quantity rather than quality. The more ideas you have, the more chance of a useful one appearing.
    4. Mutate and combine. Key off each other's suggestions, changing and mixing existing ideas in order to create new ones. Even slight variations or 'misinterpretations' are valid.

    The facilitator will also maintain a psychologically 'safe' environment during the meeting, upholding the 'no criticism' rule and also preventing other factors which might inhibit contributions, such as the presence of tape recorders or observers. Interruptions should also be prevented, as these may disturb the flow of ideas.

  11. Start generating ideas, making sure that everyone can contribute. For example, start by taking turns in 'round robin' fashion to add ideas, then drop into a free-for-all when the first burst of ideas has run out.


  13. As the ideas are suggested, the recorder writes each one down on the whiteboard or flipchart, so that they are all in full view of the participants.


  15. Ways to regenerate flagging ideas include:
    • Build a private list of ideas beforehand, and dip into it when ideas run out or get stuck in a rut.
    • Stop for a while, and just look at the ideas generated so far. Look again for mutations and combinations.
    • Take a break. Rest the mind. Do something to take thoughts away from the problem for a while. Even consider leaving the conclusion of the meeting for several days, allowing people to come back and add new ideas at odd moments.
    • Have a 'wild idea' session, where the main objective is to come up with outlandish ideas.
    • Improve on promising ideas by talking about, 'What I like about this idea ... '.
    • Use one or more of the variations, below.

  1. When there are no more ideas to add, discuss the listed ideas, looking to identify the better ideas rather than eliminating those which are not so good. The ideas can be reviewed in the light of known constraints, such as time and cost, again looking positively for how they can be used within these constraints.


  3. If there is no clear agreement on the best idea, or if there is any chance of participants being reticent, identify a voting system to decide (see Chapter 40).

The facilitator confirms that this is a group decision, and that all support the final choice.


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