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The Step by Step Guide to

Brainstorming can be an effective way to generate lots of ideas on a specific issue and then determine which idea or ideas is the best solution. Brainstorming is most effective with groups of 8-12 people and should be performed in a relaxed environment. If participants feel free to relax and joke around, they'll stretch their minds further and therefore produce more creative ideas. A brainstorming session requires a facilitator, a brainstorming space and something on which to write ideas, such as a white-board a flip chart or software tool. The facilitator's responsibilities include guiding the session, encouraging participation and writing ideas down. Brainstorming works best with a varied group of people. Participants should come from various departments across the organisation and have different backgrounds. Even in specialist areas, outsiders can bring fresh ideas that can inspire the experts. There are numerous approaches to brainstorming, but the traditional approach is generally the most effective because it is the most energetic and openly collaborative, allowing participants to build on each others' ideas. Creativity exercises, relaxation exercises or other fun activities before the session can help participants relax their minds so that they will be more creative during the brainstorming session.

Step by Step
1. Define your problem or issue as a creative challenge. This is extremely important. A badly designed challenge could lead to lots of ideas which fail to solve your problem. A well designed creative challenge generates the best ideas to solve your problem. Creative challenges typically start with: "In what ways might we...?" or "How could we...?" Your creative challenge should be concise, to the point and exclude any information other than the challenge itself. For example: "In what ways might we improve product X?" or "How could we encourage more local people to join our club?" Click here to read Dr. Arthur Van Gundy's The care and framing of strategic innovation challenges (PDF document: 537kb) 2. Give yourselves a time limit. We recommend around 25 minutes, but experience will show how much time is required. Larger groups may need more time to get everyone's ideas out. Alternatively, give yourself an idea limit. At minimum, push for 50 ideas. But 100 ideas is even better. 3. Once the brainstorming starts, participants shout out solutions to the problem while the facilitator writes them down usually on a white board or flip-chart for all to see. There must be absolutely no criticizing of ideas. No matter how daft, how impossible or how silly an idea is, it must be written down. Laughing is to be encouraged. Criticism is not. 4. Once your time is up, select the five ideas which you like best. Make sure everyone involved in the brainstorming session is in agreement. 5. Write down about five criteria for judging which ideas best solve your problem. Criteria should start with the word "should", for example, "it should be cost effective", "it should be legal", "it should be possible to finish before July 15", etc. 6. Give each idea a score of 0 to 5 points depending on how well it meets each criterion. Once all of the ideas have been scored for each criterion, add up the scores. 7. The idea with the highest score will best solve your problem. But you should keep a record of all of your best ideas and their scores in case your best idea turns out not to be workable.

Unfortunately, traditional verbal brainstorming often does not produce the best ideas. Visual brainstorming - using images and objects to build ideas - on the other hand can be highly effective

Brainstorming verbally frequently does not work. Visual brainstorming , that is brainstorming with images, objects and actions frequently works spectacularly well.

Why Verbal Brainstorming Fails The ugly truth about brainstorming is that more often than not it leads to mediocre results. In fact, if you've been involved in brainstorming sessions, you've probably experienced more than your share of events in which few truly creative ideas were suggested. There are several reasons why a brainstorming session might fail to generate great creative ideas. 1. Badly formulated challenge. Any proper brainstorming event starts with a creative challenge that is the focus for idea generation. Unfortunately, few people appreciate how important a well formulated challenge is. They'd rather go right to the idea generation part of the brainstorming. Unfortunately, if you get the challenge wrong, the best ideas in the world probably will not solve your problem. 2. Poor facilitation. Even trained facilitators who do not understand creative problem solving (CPS) are often unable to manage properly a brainstorming event. 3. Squelching. Criticising ideas during the idea generation phase of brainstorming demotivates everyone. It tells participants that wacky ideas will get you in trouble. The thing is: the wackiest ideas are the most creative. So, any squelching basically communicates to participants that creative ideas are not wanted. And participants oblige by suggesting uninspiring and predictable ideas. 4. Dominating personalities. If one person dominates the brainstorming session, her ideas inevitably become the focus and other participants' ideas are pushed to the side. Unfortunately, this means that only one person is really doing any brainstorming - and that makes nonsense of bringing a brainstorming group together. Worse, dominating people are usually more interested in power than in discovering the best ideas. 5. Topic fixation. When someone suggests an obviously good idea in a brainstorming event, other people tend to focus on similar ideas. The result is that other avenues of possibility are ignored. 6. Too much noise. In a good brainstorming event, a lot of people are sharing ideas loudly. That means everyone has to listen to other ideas before sharing their own. The result is more time and energy is spent on listening and interpreting than ideas than on generating ideas. Worse, quiet or shy people tend to keep to themselves when brainstorming gets noisy - so you lose their ideas. The bad news is that one any of these flaws can spoil a brainstorming event and lead to poor, unimaginative ideas. The good news is that non-verbal brainstorming -- based on images, objects, actions or any combination of these -- not only avoids almost all of the flaws listed above, but seems more reliably to result in better, more usable ideas. Visual Brainstorming

Visual brainstorming is about collaboratively generating ideas without using the spoken or written word. You might use objects which teams put together to solve problems. You might use arts and crafts materials such as coloured construction paper, tape, string, card, pens and the like. You might use people to create improvisational role plays. An Example Let's imagine your company manufactures farm machinery. You want to brainstorm new product improvement ideas for your best selling tractors. Rather than running a brainstorming session where people shout out ideas or write ideas on post-it's and stick them to the wall, you set up a visual brainstorming activity. The first step, of course, is to frame the creative challenge, for example: "What new features might we add to our Super Bull Tractors?" This done, you bring together a diverse group of a dozen people from various divisions in the company as well as a few typical customers. You provide them with a huge pile of Lego building bricks and have them work together to build a model tractor with their new feature ideas. Instead of shouting out ideas, the team works together to build a tractor out of Lego. As with verbal brainstorming, each member should be encouraged to participate and try out new ideas. Likewise, criticism must be forbidden. Talking, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable. But, bear in mind that ideas must be implemented in the Lego model and not simply vocalised. The tractor that the team builds will probably look nothing like the company's existing tractors. But it will probably be bursting with ideas. (Note: actually, in the author's experience, the team will probably break off into sub-teams each building their own tractors - but that's okay. Indeed, if the initial team is large the facilitator should separate it into multiple diverse teams anyway). Once the model is completed, speaking is allowed. The team presents its ideas, explains the features and, where relevant, the logic behind those features. Finally, all of the ideas together with images of the Lego tractor are compiled into a report -- unless the company's management is open minded enough to accept a Lego model in lieu of a report! The advantages to visual brainstorming in the example given include..

There are fewer distractions. No one needs to wait for someone else to speak. Everyone can focus on building. No one can sit quietly in the background. unlike in a verbal brainstorming event where quiet people hide behind the noise, in a visual brainstorming event, it is obvious who is participating and who is not. It is harder for anyone to dominate when everyone is building bits and pieces. People who attempt to dominate vocally will be unable to keep pace with the visual development of the ideas and so, will actually, provide less involvement with the end result. In the author's experience, there is far less squelching in visual brainstorming. Probably this is because visual brainstorming is fun, requires a high level of personal concentration and people find it harder to criticise visual ideas than verbal ideas.

Various Approaches Visual brainstorming need not be limited to physical objects such as new products. You may also use it to brainstorm processes, services and activities. All you need is a little imagination and the ability to visualise problems. Here are a few examples.

A software company wants to speed up the process by which new features are specified, approved and implemented. A collection of small dolls, building blocks and satay sticks allow brainstormers to simulate

people, places, tools and workflow. The dolls, of course, represent people. The building blocks can be made to represent computers, buildings and other structures. The satay sticks can show workflow direction. Thus, the team can build a model of the current process and modify it to improve efficiency. Alternatively, they might tear the entire model apart and start from scratch. A multinational wants to improve internal communications Lego can be used to create representations of divisions, communications methods and the strength of communications. Alternatively, construction paper, tape and small crafts tools can be used to build representations of divisions and string can be used to show the path of communications. As with the above example, the brainstormers can modify the existing model to improve it - or start from scratch and build a better system. A retail chain wishes to attract younger customers to its shops. Role-play is probably the way to go. Have the brainstormers break up into teams, where one team represents target customers. The other represents the company. Design a number of improvisational role plays where the customers interact with the company. Discuss the results, how they can be improved and role play again. You will probably need to do this several times. Although this approach is verbal, it also focuses uses movement, gesture and more.

Clearly, there is substantial room for creative thinking in the approach you take to visually brainstorming a problem. And it is worth investing your time in devising a good approach. After all, a creative brainstorming approach is likely to motivate participants to be extra creative in their ideas. The tools you use in visual brainstorming might include...

Children's construction toys such as building blocks, Lego, etc. Dolls and action figures to represent people. String, wire, yarn to represent connections Satay sticks to represent directions Construction paper Tape Modeling clay Cups Bits of fabric, buttons and other sewing materials Pipe cleaners Wire mesh Boxes of various sizes Toy cars

And anything else you can get your hands on. Children's toys, in particular, can be useful as well as encourage creative thinking. Indeed, you would do well to spend some time in a toy shop when planning your visual brainstorming activity. Evaluation and Implementation The first step of evaluating ideas from visual brainstorming is to have the team or teams present their models -- or results in the case of role-play -- to a wider audience. This should open discussion on the ideas, their viability and their potential value. At this stage, the facilitator should encourage positive feedback. Instead of criticising weaknesses, the audience should be encouraged to remark upon potential weaknesses and challenge the team to improve upon their ideas. In the example above, an audience member might remark: "The automatic gearbox is a good idea, but I am worried it would not be as reliable as our customers expect our products to be. How could you ensure a high level of reliability?"

The next step is typically to put the results in a written report. At this stage, traditional idea evaluation approaches such as criteria based evaluation matrices, SWOT analyses, business cases and the like may be applied. Implementation of good ideas should be the result of any brainstorming activity. Surprisingly, many great ideas never reach the implementation stage. Don't let that happen to your ideas! The Creative Idea Implementation Plan is a useful tool for planning idea implementation. Conclusion The author has seen considerable success with visual brainstorming, including..

Higher levels of participation More divergence of thinking (ie. more creativity) More fun

That said, visual brainstorming requires a higher level of creativity in the planning stage in terms of devising an effective approach and appropriate tools. Moreover, socially conservative business people may be reluctant to play with children's toys and may need to be convinced of the value of the activity. Your best approach would be to run some trail visual brainstorming events with friends, sympathetic colleagues, students or other groups who can provide useful feedback.

10 Steps for Boosting Creativity

by Jeffrey Baumgartner

Johann Sebastian Bach

Listen to music by Johann Sebastian Bach. If Bach doesn't make you more creative, you should probably see your doctor - or your brain surgeon if you are also troubled by headaches, hallucinations or strange urges in the middle of the night.


Brainstorm. If properly carried out, brainstorming can help you not only come up with sacks full of new ideas, but can help you decide which is best. Click here for more information on brainstorming.


Always carry a small notebook and a pen or pencil around with you. That way, if you are struck by an idea, you can quickly note it down. Upon rereading your notes, you may discover about 90% of your ideas are daft. Don't worry, that's normal. What's important are the 10% that are brilliant.


If you're stuck for an idea, open a dictionary, randomly select a word and then try to formulate ideas incorporating this word. You'd be surprised how well this works. The concept is based on a simple but little known truth: freedom inhibits creativity. There are nothing like restrictions to get you thinking.

Define your problem. Grab a sheet of paper, electronic notebook, computer or whatever you use to make notes, and define your problem in detail. You'll probably find ideas positively

5. 6. 7.

spewing out once you've done this.

If you can't think, go for a walk. A change of atmosphere is good for you and gentle exercise helps shake up the brain cells.

Don't watch TV. Experiments performed by the JPB Creative Laboratory show that watching TV causes your brain to slowly trickle out your ears and/or nose. It's not pretty, but it happens.

8. 9. 10.

Don't do drugs. People on drugs think they are creative. To everyone else, they seem like people on drugs.

Read as much as you can about everything possible. Books exercise your brain, provide inspiration and fill you with information that allows you to make creative connections easily.

Exercise your brain. Brains, like bodies, need exercise to keep fit. If you don't exercise your brain, it will get flabby and useless. Exercise your brain by reading a lot (see above), talking to clever people and disagreeing with people - arguing can be a terrific way to give your brain cells a workout. But note, arguing about politics or film directors is good for you; bickering over who should clean the dishes is not.

The Secret to Creativity

The secret to creative thinking is to start with good problems. Then you need to turn those problems into thought provoking challenges. After that, great ideas will almost invent themselves.

Almost every creative idea is a potential solution to a problem. Einstein's theory of relativity was about solving a discrepancy between electromagnetism and physics. Post-its were about finding a use for not very sticky glue. Picasso's cubist paintings were about solving the problem of representing three dimensional space on two dimensional canvases. And so on and so on. Before you even think about generating ideas, you need to turn your problem into a challenge. Because if you start generating ideas to solve the wrong problem, you may have great ideas - but they will probably be lousy solutions. A self-employed woman is window shopping and sees a beautiful dress. She thinks that it would be perfect for an upcoming reception where she hopes to impress prospective clients. Sadly, the dress costs 3000 and her bank account is nearly empty. She thinks to herself: "how could I earn 3000 in order to buy that dress?" She might come up with some great ideas. But the truth is, her problem has nothing to do with the dress. Her problem is that she needs to develop new business. One way to do that is to acquire new clients. Wearing a stunning dress to a reception might be one method of solving that problem. But there are many more solutions - and a lot of them are probably more cost effective than a 3000 dress, particularly if she hasn't much money. Instead, she should be asking herself: "How might I acquire new clients for my business?" or better still, "In what ways might I develop more business?" The latter question or challenge might lead to ideas like offering existing clients new products or services; increasing her prices; asking for referrals and other activities that have very little to do with new dresses and a great deal to do with building her business. Most people are like the woman in the story above. When they have problems, they immediately look for solutions, sparing nary a thought for the problem itself. Creative people know better. They start by examining the problem and turning it into a creative challenge. The best way to get started on turning your problem into a challenge is by writing down your problem in the centre of a sheet of paper. Now, try and break the problem down. Ask yourself "Why is this a problem?", "What is causing this?", "What is behind this?", "What other issues are at stake?" and so on. Ask "why?" until you can no longer answer yourself. Write all of your answers on the sheet of paper. At this stage, the core problem as well as key relevant issues will be apparent. Let's call this the big problem. The next step is to turn the big problem into one or more short, simple challenges. Challenges usually start with

"In what ways might I/we...?" "How might I/we...?" "What kinds of... might I/we...?"

Keep your challenges as simple as possible. Avoid:

Restrictive criteria Restrictive criteria block open creativity. Leave them out of the challenge - but use those criteria later when it comes time to evaluate ideas. Combining two or more challenges in a single challenge. Combining two or more issues in a single challenge (such as "how might we earn more income and work less?") tends to confuse brainstormers and results in ideas which fail to solve either problem. Best to divide such challenges into individual challenges and brainstorm one at a time. Start with the most important challenge first.

Ambiguous challenges A challenge such as "need money" isn't really clear and is likely to result in ideas that are not really clear. Make your challenges clear to everyone. And phrase them using the words above.

Once you have got your challenge, you will find it remarkably easy to generate ideas that solve it. But before you start brainstorming, there are a couple of things you should bear in mind..

Generate ideas first. Nothing more. Only after you have finished generating ideas should you even think about reviewing them and decide which one(s) to implement. When generating ideas, whether alone or in a group, prohibit any criticism whatsoever. Moreover, it is essential that you make note of every idea no matter how silly, daft or impossible it may seem. The silliest ideas are sometimes the most creative and often highly inspirational. Do not stop at the first idea that comes to mind. The first good idea that comes to mind is seldom the most creative - largely because it is almost always the most obvious. Better to generate lots of ideas and then decide which ideas to choose.

Thus the secret to generating great ideas is to start with a great challenge. Then generate, generate, generate ideas.

Over the years, I have heard a lot of people say a lot of daft things about creativity. Some of those things, I hear again and again. What's worse, a lot these daft notions or myths about creativity are detrimental to the creative process. So, let's end this once and for all. Below are 10 creative myths. If you share these with everyone in the world, these myths will go away. 1. I am not creative I have heard a lot of people say precisely that: I am not creative. The truth, of course, is that we are all creative. That's what differentiates us from Parrots who can say clever things put couldn't have a creative idea if their lives depended upon it. The truth is we are all creative. And while some people are naturally more creative than others, we can all have very creative ideas. The problem is, as we grow older, most of us learn to inhibit our creativity for reasons relating to work, acceptable behaviour and just the notion of being a grown-up. 2. That's a stupid [or daft, or silly, or ridiculous] idea People say this kind of thing to colleagues, family and even to themselves. Indeed, this is one reason why people believe they are not creative: they have got into such a habit of censoring their creative ideas, by telling themselves that their ideas are stupid, that they no longer feel creative. Next time you have an idea you think is stupid, don't censor it. Rather, ask yourself how you could improve the idea. 3. Creative people always have great ideas Rubbish! Creative people always have ideas. Whether they like it or not, they are having ideas and sharing those ideas (often with people who tell them their ideas are stupid, no less!) every waking hour of the day. Of those ideas, a precious few are great. Many are good, Many are mediocre and a precious few really are stupid ideas. Over time, we tend to forget creative people's weak ideas and remember their great ideas. 4. Constructive criticism will help my colleague improve her idea. Yeah, and tripping a child when she is learning to walk will help her improve her walking skills. Nonsense! Criticism, whether constructive or destructive (as most criticism truly is) squelches creative thinking and teaches your colleague to keep her ideas to herself. Likewise, other colleagues will see

what happens when ideas are shared and will also learn to keep their ideas to themselves. Fresh ideas are fragile. They need nurturing, not kicking. Instead of criticising a colleague's new idea, challenge her to improve the idea by asking her how she could get over the idea's weakness. 5. We need some new marketing ideas for the upcoming product launch. Let's get the marketing people together and brainstorm ideas. This is a sure recipe for coming up with the same kind of marketing ideas you have had in the past: ie. uncreative. Brainstorming, as well as ideas campaigns and other group ideation events get the most creative results with the widest variety of participants. Want marketing ideas? Then bring in sales, accounting, human resources, financial, administrative, production, design, research, legal and other people into the brainstorming event. Such a wide range of knowledge, experience and backgrounds will encourage a wide range of ideas. And that results in more creative ideas. 6. In order for our innovation strategy to be a success, we need a system of review processes for screening ideas and determining which ideas to implement. In fact, the review process is very often about eroding creativity by removing risk from ideas. The most important component for corporate innovation is a method of soliciting and capturing focused business ideas. The ideas campaign approach where you challenge employees to submit ideas on specific business issues, such as in what ways might we improve product X? is the best way to focus innovation. A transparent tool that allows employees to submit, read and collaborate on ideas is the best way to focus creative thinking. And, framing your challenges effectively is arguably one of the most important aspects of successful corporate innovation. (see http://www.jpb.com/ideamanagement/ for more information on the ideas campaign approach to innovation). Yes, reviewing ideas is important. But first you need to be generating the creative ideas so that they may be reviewed. 7. That's a good idea. Let's run with it When we are looking for ideas, we have a tendency to stop looking and start implementing with the first good idea that comes to mind. Unfortunately, that means that any great ideas you might have had, had you spent more time thinking, are lost. Moreover, good ideas can often be developed into significantly better ideas with a little creative thought. So, don't think of a good idea as an end rather think of it as a beginning of the second stage of creative thought. 8. Drugs will help me be more creative The 1960s drug culture and glamour of musicians and artists getting high and being creative led to this myth. And, possibly a little bit of drugs or alcohol will loosen your inhibitions to the extent that you do not criticise your ideas as much as you might had your inhibitions not been loosened. A lot of drugs or alcohol, however, will alter your mind and may very likely make you believe you are being more creative. But to people watching you, you will just seem like someone who is very high. 9. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just the other day I was at a workshop where some people were complaining about a colleague who always had ideas. Worse, he wanted to use those ideas to change processes that were working perfectly well. Sadly, too many of us (but not you, of course) are like the complainers. If something works well as it is, whether it is a machine or a process, we often feel there is no need to change the way it works. Fortunately, Dr. Hans von Ohain and Sir Frank Whittle didn't think like that or we'd still be flying in propeller aeroplanes. Bear in mind that propeller aeroplanes were working perfectly fine when the two gentlemen in question individually invented the jet engine. 10. I don't need a notebook. I always remember my ideas Maybe. But I doubt it. When we are inspired by an idea, that idea is very often out of context with what we are doing. Perhaps a dream we had upon waking inspires us with the solution to a problem. But, then we wake up, get the children up, have breakfast, run through in our minds an important presentation we'll be giving in the morning, panic that the kids will miss their bus, run for the train, flirt with an attractive young thing on the train, etc - until late afternoon when you finally have time to think about the problem. How likely are you really to remember the idea you had upon wakening?