Brainstorming combines an informal approach to problem solving with lateral thinking. It encourages people to come up with thoughts and ideas that may seem eccentric or over-ambitious but that can be crafted into new solutions to a problem, or stimulate other ideas. This helps to get people unstuck by "jolting" them out of their normal ways of thinking. Participants are encouraged to propose as many ideas as possible in the allotted time (typically 10-15 min). Ideas are recorded (for example, on a flip chart or post-it notes) and participants are told not to critique ideas during the idea-generating phase. Quantity of ideas is more important at this phase than quality. A facilitator is used to pull out ideas and probe as necessary to clarify.
You will need
You need a comfortable space where everyone can contribute to the discussion; post-it notes and pens are ideal for recording ideas on and then clustering them.
Optional but good to have
If you're working with a large group it may pay to have them brainstorm in much smaller groups, each with a nominated rapporteur. Additional AV equipment and breakout spaces may be necessary for this. This method can also be adapted to a virtual setting using a whiteboard or screen sharing to gather ideas.
Benefits and limitations
- Brainstorming in a learning context is a good way to get a class working together on solving tough problems.
- It encourages creative thinking and innovative ideas that can be discovered in a short period of time and that are focused on the topic .
- Participants can possess variying levels of knowledge/experince on the topic.
- A good brainstorming session needs to be more structured than you might anticipate! Consider brainstorming to be the 'filling' in a sandwich that needs to include an appropriate opening and needs to be closed properly so that everyone knows what the final outcome of the brainstorm is.
What do I actually do as an instructor/facilitator?
Preparation / before class
You need to think about the problem you're going to solve, whether your trainees have the competency to solve the problem (if not, what might you provide them with beforehand to help them?), how you'll present the problem to them; how they'll generate ideas, and tactics for narrowing the ideas down to a manageable number of potential solutions. Experienced users of the technique can do this on the fly but first-time users should allow themselves half an hour or so to think these things through beforehand.
You will need to build 30 mins to an hour into your course schedule for a brainstorming session
Implementation / during class
Depending on how you decide to do this, appoint someone to record the ideas that will be generated, or split your class into subgroups and get them each to appoint a scribe. Next you need to generate ideas around a theme. It can be helpful to start by getting individuals to generate ideas by themselves ('individual brainstorming') before sharing them with the group; this encourages everyone to come up with at least one idea and avoids domination by a few individuals.
Get everyone to share their ideas. If they've generated lots, consider clustering them into groups. Use the ideas or the clusters of ideas to guide discussion on what a good solution might be.
Close the session by coming to a conclusion - either deciding what the best solution is or, if there's no clear winner, splitting the class into different teams to try different solutions. If the class comes up with one or more workable solutions, continuity can be provided by testing these out in a subsequent session.
There are no use cases available for "Brainstorming".
- Applied Imagination, the 1953 book on brainstorming by Alex Osborn, the inventor of brainstorming
- Mind tools
- Variations on a theme from the Gamestorming website: object brainstorm; 3-12-3 brainstorm
- Search on Internet
Reproduced with permission from Novartis Pharma AG