In my last post, I enumerated all the reasons why brainstorming sessions so often fail to be productive. But of course what we all need to know is whether there's a better way to do brainstorming -- and if so, what is it? Here's how brainstorming came to be the de facto creativity tool, along with four suggestions for generating more -- and better -- ideas. Brainstorming was invented in 1941 by Alex Osborn, an advertising executive who was one of the founders of BBDO -- he was the 'O.' Codifying it in two books, Your Creative Power and Applied Imagination, he laid out five basic rules:
- Criticize nothing
- Go for large quantities of ideas
- Encourage freewheeling, wild, even apparently nutty ideas
- Build on ideas
- Stay focused on the task
- Try electronic brainstorming. Using any form of instant messaging or chat software, let everyone work individually when they contribute to the session. In experiments, this produced the largest number, variety and breadth of ideas. It works even better when you...
- Brainstorm anonymously. Experiments in which participants could throw in ideas without fear of criticism produced more ideas than when everyone knew whose ideas were whose.
- Alternate brainstorming alone with group sessions. Remember that group sessions inevitably introduce a strong element of conformity, so don't depend on groups alone.
- Take breaks. Since idea generation drops off after about five minutes, you will develop more ideas when you brainstorm in short bursts. There's no advantage to longer meetings. So forget those exhausting two-hour sessions that leave everyone feeling drained.