How often do you use brainstorming to solve problems? Chances are, you’ve used it more than once, even if you didn’t realize it. People have been using brainstorming to generate creative ideas for decades, and the method seems to prove quite efficient in coming up with solutions to problems. However, for brainstorming to bu fully effective, you need to use the method correctly — where and when it is relevant.
Traditional brainstorming is a creativity technique aiming to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by the group members.
In other words, it is a situation where people meet to generate new ideas and innovative solutions to challenging problems. During such sessions, participants tend to think more freely and suggest many spontaneous ideas that are noted down without any criticism and are evaluated after the brainstorming session.
In such a way, brainstorming combines lateral thinking with an informal, relaxed approach to problem-solving. By encouraging people to come up with various ideas — from reasonable to a bit crazy ones — the method helps to do away with conventional thinking and broadens the solutions area.
The term was popularized in the 1953 book, “Applied Imagination” by Alex Osborn, Madison Avenue advertising executive. Since then, researchers have in different ways improved the original technique.
The problem is that conventional collective solving is quite often undermined by unhelpful group behavior, especially criticism. Indeed, it is useful to have a structured, analytical process when solving a problem, but this may lead to limited ideas that lack creativity and imagination.
Contrary to conventional group solving, brainstorming provides an open and free environment encouraging everyone to participate. Of course, a rich array of creative ideas will include quite a lot of those that will not be developed further, but having at least a few really worthy ones makes the session a success.
The reason brainstorming has become so popular is that when there are a lot of team members solving a problem, it is their diverse experience that comes into play and increases the richness and variety of solutions. However, in order for brainstorming to be helpful, teams should follow its main rule: to create a spirit of non-judgment that promotes openness and spurs creativity.
Group brainstorming proved to be a useful method for solving problems in many cases, but it is not a panacea to all challenges, especially when considering problems in areas requiring a lot of creativity. Although brainstorming is usually associated with a group of people solving a problem rather than one person, several studies have shown that individual brainstorming produces more — and often better — ideas than group brainstorming.
Why? The thing is that although collective brainstorming promotes the absence of criticism and aims at increasing creativity, humans are humans — they tend to pay too much attention to other people’s ideas and forget to generate something genuine on their own. This is called “blocking”.
WeTransfer, the Dutch file-sharing company, conducted a survey to evaluate the effectiveness of collective brainstorming. The survey suggests that dutiful meetings are a primary creativity killer for such professionals as writers, photographers, and musicians. When a creative challenge arises, they prefer working alone rather than trying to come up with a useful idea during a group meeting.
Brainstorming is a popular method of finding solutions to challenging problems that has proved its efficiency for both individuals and groups. If the main rule of brainstorming — non-judgment — is followed, chances are that a group session will be successful and people with various backgrounds will produce an array of creative and innovative ideas. However, while group brainstorming is suitable for solving complex problems as members with different backgrounds produce a wider range of ideas, creative areas sometimes require individual brainstorming which removes bad group behaviors that may creep in during a collective session.
If you start a new business with a couple of friends, colleagues, or a third-party company, try to find the golden mean between brainstorming and fast independent decision making. In other words, use as many resources as possible to make your tactics and strategy more comprehensive, but don’t forget to move on with approved intermediate results because eternal brainstorming may become a time-draining activity.
No matter which type of method suits you and your company the best, practicing tacit rules of traditional brainstorming — openness, positivity, building on other’s ideas — promotes trust and team cohesion.