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The virtues of brainstorming

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Business Briefs
This article is based on the free ebook "Business Briefs"

“Brainstorming” is a term that people often use to describe finding a solution to a problem. What many people do not realize is that brainstorming is a technique with specific rules and procedures.  It is in fact more of an idea-generation technique than a “solution” technique. Brainstorming is designed to tap into the power of groups to develop a list of possible solutions to a problem.


The benefits of group brainstorming

Groups can outperform individuals on both physical and mental tasks. With physical tasks, multiple individuals can carry more weight, move more things, cover more territory, and make more contacts than a single person. Workloads for physical tasks can be shared among group members. On mental tasks, groups can also outperform individuals because of the different experiences, knowledge, and perspectives that members possess and use to solve mental problems. When individual members collectively use their past experiences to solve a common group problem, richer and better solutions arise than when only a single perspective is tapped. That is a key principle of brainstorming.


Problem-solving process

The problem-solving process involves several distinct steps. The first step is problem definition, followed by the generation of alternative solutions, selection of an alternative, implementation of the alternative, and evaluation and feedback.

The chosen solutions should be legal and ethical. Brainstorming is a technique that is used to develop a list of alternative solutions to a problem.  Some end up being routine, and some creative. As described by Alex F. Osborn, the father of brainstorming, the rules for brainstorming are:

  • Groups should consist of five to seven people.
  • Everybody should be given the chance to contribute.
  • No criticism is allowed during the idea generation phase.
  • Freewheeling and outlandish ideas should be encouraged.
  • “Piggybacking” off others’ ideas should be encouraged.
  • The greater the quantity and variety of ideas, the better.
  • Ideas should be recorded.
  • After all of the ideas have been generated, each idea should be evaluated in terms of the pros and cons, costs and benefits, feasibility, and so on.


Tips for successful brainstorming

Requiring groups to have five to seven people and having them all contribute ideas allows the power of groups to come into play. When groups are too small, there are not enough different past experiences to draw upon. When groups become too large, the forces that inhibit individual participation become more prominent.

With brainstorming, the alternatives suggested by group members should be spoken without thought of fear or evaluation. People should feel free to suggest any ideas that come to their minds. Silly-seeming or outlandish ideas should be encouraged because they might spark creative ideas in others that could lead to exceptional solutions. All ideas should be recorded. Idea feasibility should be assessed only after time has been called to cease generating ideas.

Brainstorming techniques allow groups to generate many possible solutions to problems. Through the processes of generating and evaluating many possible solutions, an unobvious, outstanding, and one-in-a-million solution might be discovered.


If you want to find out about other efficient problem-solving solutions, read “Business Briefs” by Coleman Patterson.