How to Brainstorm - Group Brainstorming
To brainstorm usually means to solve problems by having a
group of people discuss them and spontaneously suggest ideas
or solutions. A brainstorming session is meant to be very open
and non-critical. A "bad" or "silly" idea
may lead to an idea that is very helpful, so suggestions are
left un-judged at first. It is best to set a rough deadline for
this free-for-all part of the session, after which the ideas
and solutions are evaluated for whatever usefulness they may
Again, it is very important that the ideas are not criticized
when first presented. To brainstorm effectively, you can't stifle
the creative process. If your group has a difficult time with
this aspect of the exercise, you could try having them write
their ideas down and submit them anonymously. When nobody knows
who suggested which ideas, everyone will feel freer to say what
Unfortunately, you will lose much of the value of the session
doing this, because individuals will not be spontaneously feeding
off of each others ideas. It may be better than nothing, but
try to create that non-critical environment and brainstorm in
the open for the best result.
To brainstorm by yourself, start by writing down the problem
to be solved. Then write it down several more times, restating
it each time. "We need to save money for a down payment
on a house," may be restated as "We need to buy a house,"
and "We need to get out of this place." Now just spend
thirty minutes writing down all the elements of the problem,
and everything that comes to mind. Try several creative problem-solving
techniques also, writing down the solutions and ideas that are
produced. As with brainstorming in a group, it is important at
this point that you don't stifle the creative process by judging
When you are done with this part, you should have a mess.
Only now should you look at that mess with a critical eye. Pick
through for the ideas with the most potential. If you are lucky,
the best solution may jump out at you. More often you'll have
a few decent possibilities that you have to evaluate further.
Brainstorm again if you have to.
An Example of How to Brainstorm Alone
The scenario: your business is spending too much on delivery
costs. You restate the problem twice, then write down everything
that comes to mind. You try a problem-solving technique like
the "assume the absurd" one described on the page "More Ways to Solve Problems."
This leads you to the idea, "Let's not deliver," which
seems crazy since most of your customers are in other states.Then
it occurs to you that if you delivered all orders for a city
to a central distribution point, instead of to individuals, it
would be more efficient. The customer could drive a short distance
to pick up their order, with the advantage that they could return
the product immediately if they were dissatisfied (no need to
pack and ship).
You write this idea down and move on. Of course you also write
down the obvious, such as "negotiate lower delivery rates,"
or "find another delivery company." When you are done
brainstorming you pick through the ideas and decide on a couple
to explore further, before choosing the best solution.