No that’s stupid.’ ‘No, that would never work.’ How often do we second-guess ourselves through such ineffectual thinking, especially in the self-conscious atmosphere of a new group embarking upon the decision making and problem solving process to solve a work related issue? The decision making tool of brainstorming acts as a preventative measure, to ensure that no ideas are eliminated, and creativity rather than negative thinking is stimulated, both in the mind of the different individuals involved, as well as in a decision-making work team as a whole. “During brainstorming sessions there should be no criticism of ideas. You are trying to open possibilities and break down wrong assumptions about the limits of the problem. Judgments and analysis at this stage will stunt idea generation.” (Mind Tools, 2005) So will snorts, giggles, laughs, and inappropriate jokes! (Levine, 2001)
The use of brainstorming helps eliminate the ‘terror of the white,’ or the overly expansive white page, filled with nothing but blankness. Its confetti method of idea generation is intent upon forcing participants to say whatever comes to their head, with the knowledge that other members of the group will not judge them. By forcing every individual to put down whatever comes to his or her head, regardless of the assumed quality, for a fixed period of time, brainstorming is an excellent way to embark upon a project. “Absolutely no discussion takes place during the brainstorming activity. Talking about the ideas will take place after brainstorming is complete.” (Levine, 2001)
Brainstorming is especially effective with a new team of individuals who do not know one another very well. Its occasional silliness and free-for all atmosphere, whether members brainstorm individually and then read their responses, or do so collectively, with one member selected as a ‘secretary’ for the group, can generate comradeship as well as creativity. “When you brainstorm on your own you will tend to produce a wider range of ideas than with group brainstorming – you do not have to worry about other people’s egos or opinions, and can therefore be more freely creative.” (Mind Tools, 2004) However, individual brainstorming may not generate a sense of everyone working as a team towards a specific task effectively. Also, after a group dynamic is formed and a specific path has been decided upon, brainstorming as a technique must be used more judiciously. Once a specific course of action has been decided upon brainstorming can be used ineffectually to stall necessary but difficult decisions rather than generate truly productive results.
During the brainstorming session, one team member should review the topic of the brainstorm using open-ended questions such as why, how, or what. For example, “The topic for the brainstorm is developing a training course on automobiles. What should we focus on as the content?” (Levine, 2001) Then, all members of the group can think silently, write down their ideas, and share their ideas with the group — or share their ideas one after the other after a momentary pause of thought.
The use of brainstorming is ideal for open-ended queries, rather than task-specific items. An example of an inappropriate question for brainstorming might be, ‘what should we do to correct the problem of the new computer virus X that is threatening our system,’ as clearly not all solutions will work, and technical expertise is likely required to solve the problem that perhaps not all group members can provide. However, for general and creative problem solving ventures, brainstorming can be a key first step, where all ideas are welcome no matter how silly or far out they seem. Also, during later junctures of a project where creativity or a group ‘block’ must be overcome, brainstorming can again be useful, provided it is used to ‘unblock’ rather than stall the decision making process.
Brainstorming.” (2004) Mind Tools. Retrieved 27 May 2005 at http://www.mindtools.com/brainstm.html
Levine, Alan. (2001) “Brainstorming.” Marcopia Lesson for Learning and Instruction. Retrieved 27 May 2005 at http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/authoring/studio/guidebook/brain.html
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