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Brainstorming: How to understand it

The Quality ToolbookBrainstorming > How to understand it

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


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How to understand it

To live in society, we learn to conform in our thinking as well as our actions, to the degree that we acquire psychological blocks against being different. A consequence of this is that when we try to think of new ideas, our minds work against us, for example by convincing us that unconventional thinking will be ridiculed. As a result, we often use habitual thought patterns to jump to solutions that are easy to find, but are not necessarily the best approach.

Brainstorming bypasses these blocks and enables the mind to reach its full creative potential by suspending judgment, removing the fear of failure and encouraging the use of divergent thinking to achieve a long list of ideas. True divergent thinking differs from conventional thinking, in that the list will contain illogical and unconventional ideas as well as logical and obvious ones. In practice, good solutions are often found within the conventional thinking zone. In the creative zone, however, the abandonment of conventional thought can unearth brilliant new solutions.

It is common to follow the divergent thinking of a Brainstorming session with a more logical convergent thinking session to organize and reduce these ideas to one or more which will be used, as in the diagram below:



Brainstorming works well in groups, because of the effects of synergy, where the effect of people working together is greater than it would be if they had worked individually. for example, one person's (possibly ridiculous) idea can trigger further and possibly more valuable ideas in other people.

The size of the group is important, as if it is too small, some synergy may be lost, but if it is too big, it can become too chaotic or people may hold back for fear of appearing silly.

The creative activity of brainstorming uses 'right brained' thinking in the same way as the Affinity Diagram. It is common for people not to consider themselves as being particularly creative, but actual results and consequent confidence can be significantly improved with practice.

It is useful for a person who is not involved in the creative session to act as facilitator. The purpose of this role is to maintain a non-threatening context, while keeping the participants' minds open and focused solely on the problem. This person owns the process, whilst the Brainstorming group owns the problem. A good facilitator can make a lot of difference, especially if they are skilled at 'opening people up' and encouraging them to be more experimental than they would normally dare to be.

A separate recorder may also be employed to write down the ideas, allowing the facilitator to maintain this focus on the group.

Strictly speaking, Brainstorming is only for creating a list of new ideas. In practice, it tends to be also used for the collection of less creative opinions, and often also includes a voting session to select items for further action.


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