What's the first action you undertake when you're supposed to work on a creative project? Brainstorming, of course! This is a classic technique that's being reinvented over and over again. With all those new brainstorming tools, we've nearly forgotten its basic principles. Most online guides offer random brainstorming techniques that defy the essential purpose of this concept. Instead of launching that new app you just installed on your smartphone, maybe you should remind yourself about the right way of generating ideas.
One of the most effective brainstorming techniques was developed by Alex Faickney Osborn, who presented it in his book Applied Imagination (1953). The main concepts he established are still valid!
Foundational Principles of Brainstorming
Osborn identified two main principles of his idea generating technique:
Judgement postponing, and
Aiming for quantity.
The point of brainstorming is to defy the common logic. When you encourage yourself to think of more ideas, you stimulate the creative center of your brain. These two main principles are supported by 4 rules:
1. Abandon your inner critic.
Your common judgment isn't doing any good during the brainstorming process. Just write your ideas down without thinking about them. Take notes for every single thought, even when you consider it irrelevant.
2. Aim for quantity. The quality will come as result.
Osborn believed that maximum quantity led to quality. The point of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible, and then bring them down to an ultimate solution.
3. Stimulate unusual solutions
If you want to be creative, then you have to generate unexpected ideas. During the brainstorming stage, you should view the topic from different angles and discover new ways of thinking.
4. Combine the ideas. Improve them!
Don't worry if you can't get an absolutely unique idea. When you combine a few of the ideas you get during the brainstorming process, you can develop an original concept. The key to proper brainstorming is making unexpected association between well-known ideas.
Tips on Proper Brainstorming
1. Be weird! You can't be creative if you stick to mediocre ideas. If you want to encourage effective brainstorming, you need to challenge your team and yourself to defy common expectations.
1. Set some order around you! You can't brainstorm in a messy room full of distractions. Start by creating a neat space that won't suffocate your ideas. A big, clean room or open space will get you into creative mode.
2. Warm up! You can't just start getting ideas whenever you decide to brainstorm. You have some warming up to do. For example, you can locate an unfamiliar word in the dictionary, discover its meaning and start thinking of associations. Don't get carried away; 5 minutes are enough for this exercise to boost your brain activity.
3. Stand! A relaxed sitting position won't encourage your mind to think of more ideas. Stand up and be energetic! Walk around the room, and you'll stimulate a faster, more effective creativity flow.
4. Pick a team of the right size. A brainstorming team of 30 people could hardly function properly. Not everyone would get a chance to present ideas. Stick to the rule Jeff Bezos recommends: if it takes more than two pizzas to feed the team, it means it's too big.
5. Rely on the right people! If you don't select the team members carefully, you can't expect an effective brainstorming session. Get rid of people who would slow you down, as well as from those who would judge other people's ideas. Stick to creative individuals who are not afraid to discuss and accept different opinions.
The purpose of a brainstorming team is not related to the final decisions. Make sure to explain this aspect to your team, so they will be relieved from the pressure of responsibility. You need to inspire them to unleash their creativity and speak up.
6. Remember the "˜third third' rule! Not all ideas on your list will be great. The first third of them will be obvious, expected thoughts. When you analyze the collection, you'll notice that you were more creative when you were coming up with the second chunk of ideas; while the third third contains some thoughts you didn't expect to come up with. That's why it's important to focus on quantity: the quality comes during the last stages of the brainstorming process.
7. Plan the time! A brainstorming session shouldn't last too long, but you still need to allow enough space for the team to start functioning. Take 10-15 minutes to start the discussion in the most relaxed manner. Explain the topic and take the team members into creative mode. Then, give them an hour for the actual brainstorming.
8. Don't judge! Remember: you're not coming up with final decision; you're just getting ideas. Embrace all opportunities and give everyone a chance to get foolish thoughts. Some of them will be brilliant!
9. Take notes of every single idea! If you ignore the importance of taking notes, you'll forget many great ideas, since you and the team will keep coming with new ones. You can record the session and review it later, but you can also take notes on a board. You also need to supply pens, apps, and sticky notes for all members of the team.
10. Don't end it there! Creativity doesn't end with a single brainstorming session. Encourage the members of your team and yourself to take that inspiration further and note down all ideas that result from that point on.
Old-School Brainstorming Rocks!
Why would you complicate the brainstorming technique with unnecessary tools and fanfare? Too much clutter will only get your thoughts into a frame. You only need a good team, enough time, and the main rules for idea generation. Add some positive attitude on top of everything, and you'll be on your way towards a creativity outbreak!