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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 have.

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 they want.

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.

Solo Brainstorming

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 your ideas.

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.

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