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Brainstorming: Practical variations

The Quality Toolbook > Brainstorming > Practical variations

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


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Practical variations

  • Include someone in the team who is known for being creative, but who is completely naive about the problem. They can help to open up new possibilities.
  • If your morals permit, drink a little alcohol to help reduce inhibitions (but not so much as to fog the brain!).
  • Remove the thinking constraints of the normal work environment by moving the Brainstorming session to a less conventional situation. Factors that can be changed include time, location, dress. For example, have an informal session one evening in a local bar.
  • Help people to relax by telling some jokes. Laughter is always good, provided you laugh together, and not at one another. A mark of a good Brainstorming sessions is that the people involved enjoyed themselves.
  • Before starting to write down ideas, have a silent period during which participants think about the problem. They may, if they wish, write down ideas to call out later.
  • Leave the final list pinned to a wall or sent as a copy to team members so they can look at it in odd moments. This can allow late ideas to be added and allows an incubation period, where some thought can be given before starting any subsequent selection process. This can help to prevent any immediate discounting of 'ridiculous' ideas.
      A possible danger with this is where strong individuals informally canvass other team members to back their favorite idea. On the other hand, diving straight into a selection process immediately after Brainstorming can result in the excitement of creation carrying over and impractical ideas being selected.
  • Start with a session to come up with ways of restating the problem, looking at it from different angles. Start each restatement with 'How to...'. The result will be a list of additional stimuli for the main Brainstorming session.
  • Have a warm-up session to 'stimulate the creative juices', using a subject about which it is easy to be creative.
  • Write the ideas on cards or adhesive memo notes, to enable the ideas to be subsequently organized using other techniques, such as the Affinity diagram or Relations Diagram.
  • Use a standard checklist to prompt for more questions, For example:
    • Replace with something else?
    • Add or extend in some way?
    • Rearrange the parts?
    • Reduce or simplify?
    • Combine diverse elements?
    • Change the sequence?
    • Vary the variables?
  • Identify blocks that may have to be overcome by reversing the problem statement. For example, ask, 'How could we prevent people coming to a company picnic?'. This is particularly useful where the subject has emotional connotations and the team is uncomfortable with it.
  • After an idea has been selected, brainstorm again to identify possible snags and problems by asking, 'How can this idea fail?'
  • Write ideas in an unclear fashion, then ask people who did not create the idea to interpret it. The originator may then say what they were thinking. A simple way of doing this is to use only single words, such as 'opening' or 'red'.

There are many other methods of creating new ideas (see the Creating Minds website), which can be used either as modifications to or as replacements of straight Brainstorming. These include:

  • Brainwriting is based on the 'mutate and combine' rule. In this system, each participant starts with a large sheet of paper, and writes about an idea for around three minutes. The papers are then shuffled and redistributed and each person continues developing the same idea that is already on the sheet. After five rounds, pin the papers to the wall, discuss and vote.
  • Braindrawing uses the same rules as brainwriting, only instead of writing about the idea, each person does a drawing about the idea and passes it on to the next person who continues the drawing. This helps the creative, non-verbal right brain to be optimally used, and can be effective where the team has a creative block.
  • Rightbraining encourages the development of partial thoughts by making partial drawings, as in the illustration . Combine the partial drawings into creative combination drawings.

Fig. 1. Rightbraining

  • Attribute Listing involves generating a separate list of attributes of the problem, then looking for new ideas through modification of these. For example, attributes of a picnic might include fun, music, games, family, etc. An idea from this could be a for a rock music theme, including a family group kareoke competition.
  • In Morphological Analysis, the most important dimensions of are problem are identified, then all relationships between these are examined. For a picnic, these could be: cost to the company; attendance on the day; the enjoyment engendered. An idea from this could be to survey employees on possible events, showing them the overall cost and possible charges to cover popular but too-expensive attractions.
  • In Synectics, conventional thought and jumping to solutions are avoided as the leader only gradually reveals the full problem, adding more information as the group solves the more general problems first. Thus the picnic discussion may start with a discussion about motivation, then discussing the company as a family, involvement of employees' families and what family groups enjoy doing. This should result in a deeper understanding of the overall problem, which should in turn lead to a better solution. Thus the idea for a picnic could be turned into a weekend camp, where people can get to know each other better.
  • Lateral Thinking forces new ideas by taking new paths that deliberately avoid conventional thinking. Thus any 'logical' ideas are banned. This requires an open attitude that suspends judgment, looking for ways in which unconventional ideas can be realized.

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