Brainstorming is a group creativity technique by which a group tries to find a solution for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members.

The term was popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in 1953 through the book Applied Imagination. In the book, Osborn not only proposed the brainstorming method but also established effective rules for hosting brainstorming sessions.

Brainstorming can be defined as the methodology used to encourage every individual in the Circle to express freely their opinions or give ideas in an open discussion.. Brainstorming can be used to list down all the problem faced by an organization, their causes and the potential effects if a certain suggestion is implemented. Brainstorming works by focusing on a problem, and then deliberately coming up with as many solutions as possible and by pushing the ideas as far as possible. One of the reasons it is so effective is that the barnstormers not only come up with new ideas in a session, but also spark off from associations with other people's ideas by developing and refining them.

Brainstorming can be an effective way to generate lots of ideas on a specific issue and then determine which idea – or ideas – is the best solution. Brainstorming is most effective with groups of 8-12 people and should be performed in a relaxed environment. If participants feel free to relax and joke around, they'll stretch their minds further and therefore produce more creative ideas.

A brainstorming session requires a facilitator, a brainstorming space and something on which to write ideas, such as a white-board a flip chart or software tool. The facilitator's responsibilities include guiding the session, encouraging participation and writing ideas down.

Brainstorming works best with a varied group of people. Participants should come from various departments across the organisation and have different backgrounds. Even in specialist areas, outsiders can bring fresh ideas that can inspire the experts. There are numerous approaches to brainstorming, but the traditional approach is generally the most effective because it is the most energetic and openly collaborative, allowing participants to build on each others' ideas.

There are four basic rules in brainstorming (Osborn, 1963) intended to reduce social inhibitions among team members, stimulate idea generation, and increase overall creativity:

Rule 1: Focus on Quantity

The 1st rule Osborn established was to define the end goal of the brainstorming process, which was to develop as many ideas as possible. Osborn’s emphasized the quantity of ideas generated rather than the quality of the ideas.

Rule 2 . No criticism:

Criticism of ideas are withheld during the brainstorming session as the purpose is on generating varied and unusual ideals and extending or adding to these ideas. Criticism is reserved for the evaluation stage of the the process. This allows the members to feel comfortable with the idea of generating unusual ideas.

Four ways to deal with sudden criticism at workplace

It isn't easy to deal with criticism but it hurts a lot more when it catches you off guard. What's important, though, is how you react, for it can have a serious impact on your career. ET explains how you can take criticism in your stride, and make it work for you.

Don't React

Hold your words, and never try to guess what the other person is thinking. "Nobody likes feedback but one should refrain from reacting immediately . Reacting in an emotional way may have unwanted repercussions. When one reacts, the critic starts emphasising his point further, which leads to even more criticism," says Pravin Subba, head, human resources, Greenply Industries.

Hear Them Out

Try to see the critic's point. When you don't acknowledge what the other person is saying, the conversation is sure to take a negative turn. Ask the person who is criticising you for the specific instance and nature of your mistake. "I usually encourage employees to ask me questions while I am giving feedback. Once people know what they are being criticised for, they start relating to it. The whole process after that becomes smooth," says Subba.

Ask for Feedback

The person who is criticising you has his or her reasons and might even have a solution to offer. It is safe to ask them him how you can do better. "When my seniors criticise my work, I regularly ask them for feedback. This way I make sure I don't miss out on anything and with their perspective in my mind, it's much easier to rework a copy", says Nivedita Agashe, copywriter, Taproot India.

Be Confident

At times, you might realise that the person criticising you is wrong. Then too, you must wait for the right time, making sure he or she is ready to listen . "Make your point in a confident and detailed manner. Assess what you are saying in your head before you actually say it. If the other person is still not ready to listen, approach someone higher up and explain the situation. But use this only as a last resort.

    • Welcome unusual ideas: Unusual ideas are welcomed as it is normally easier to "tame down" than to "tame up" as new ways of thinking and looking at the world may provide better solutions.

    • Quantity Wanted: The greater the number of ideas generated, the greater the chance of producing a radical and effective solution.

    • Combine and improve ideas: Not only are a variety of ideals wanted, but also ways to combine ideas in order to make them better.

Rule 3: Welcome Wild Ideas

This rule was to welcome wild ideas, in deed, they were encouraged. This is continuation of previous two rules, when pursuing quantity, and disallowing criticism, naturally team members gets encouraged to throw out even the craziest of ideas that make through are more likely to be truly innovative and game changing.

Rule 4: Combine and Improve Ideas

Osborn’s fourth rule was to encourage participants to develop one another’s ideas. By blending, chopping, and combining ideas together, often bolder ideas are uncovered. This serves not only the first goal of generating more ideas, but also the third rule of proposing truly wild ideas.

Brainstorming Steps:

    • Gather the participants from as wide a range of disciplines with as broad a range of experience as possible. This brings many more creative ideas to the session.

    • Write down a brief description of the problem - the leader should take control of the session, initially defining the problem to be solved with any criteria that must be met, and then keeping the session on course.

    • Use the description to get everyone's mind clear of what the problem is and post it where it can be seen. This helps in keeping the group focused.

    • Encourage an enthusiastic, uncritical attitude among brainstormers and encourage participation by all members of the team. Encourage them to have fun!

    • Write down all the solutions that come to mind (even ribald ones). Do NOT interpret the idea, however you may rework the wording for clarity's sake.

    • Do NOT evaluate ideas until the session moves to the evaluation phase. Once the brainstorming session has been completed, the results of the session can be analyzed and the best solutions can be explored either using further brainstorming or more conventional solutions.

    • Do NOT censor any solution, no matter how silly it sounds. The silly ones will often lead to creative ones - the idea is to open up as many possibilities as possible, and break down preconceptions about the limits of the problem.

    • The leader should keep the brainstorming on subject, and should try to steer it towards the development of some practical solutions.

    • Once all the solutions have been written down, evaluate the list to determine the best action to correct the problem.

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