Brainstorm to Solve Tough Problems

by Tom McBride, Partners for Creative Solutions, Inc.

  Much has been written on how to improve personal and group creativity, but many organizations still have not mastered one of the more powerful creativity tools: group brainstorming. 

Good brainstorming techniques enable groups to surpass individuals in the generation of ideas.   According to James Adams, author of the classic book, Conceptual Blockbusting, individual creativity is often limited by the following conceptual blocks. 

  Perceptual (our paradigms, we see what we expect to see)

Emotional (judging, low tolerance for risk)

Cultural (taboos, tradition, “work” and “fun” don’t mix)

 Environmental (distrust, distractions, speed of life, problems with boss)

Intellectual and expressive (inability to organize or verbalize ideas)

Each individual has a unique mix of these blocks, but through diversity a group often overcomes these obstacles and produces more than the sum of its parts. Brainstorming techniques also leverage the power of groups by protecting the egos of individuals and preventing domination by stronger personalities. 


Here are some guidelines for more effective group brainstorming.

Choose participants who are likely to have diverse views of the problem.

State the problem clearly, and then ask participants to express ideas as they they of them.

Generate as many ideas as possible.

Encourage wild ides. Make brainstorming fun as opposed to being too serious. Lighthearted warm-up sessions, such as "how to protect your garden from predators" can get participants loosened up and into a creative mood.

Allow absolutely no evaluation of ideas during a brainstorming session. This protects individual egos and helps keep ideas coming.

Encourage participants to build on the ideas of others.

Record all ideas on separate sheets of paper to ease manipulation during the evaluation phase.

When a group seems to run out of ideas, go around the room and ask each member to either provide one more idea or "pass". This provides an opportunity for more reserved individuals to "speak up".

If not satisfied with the first group's ideas, repeat the process with a second group.

Successful brainstorming produces a large quantity of ideas that must be evaluated in a separate, more critical session.  Avoid eliminating ideas prematurely by trying to develop a few of the higher potential ideas before making the final selection.  Brainstorming is not for every problem, but if done properly it can produce superior solutions.