One of the most important human skills that can make a big difference in our lives is creativity and innovation. Creative thinking means looking at things differently and finding suitable and unexpected solutions. It may be acceptable to everyone that creativity is essential to business success, personal success, and also a social success, but the important question is how to put creativity into action.
Is creativity totally inborn, or can creative thinking be imparted in people in different ways? Even the answer to the latter question is positive, the question arises then, how can this be done? Is there a special technique for cultivating creativity and using it as a powerful and effective weapon?
Studies show that there are different ways for creativity and innovation to flourish; from individual techniques such as the “Lotus Blossom” and “Do It” tools, to group techniques such as “Delphi” and “brainstorming”, they all try to change the user's view and mental assumptions. These all could replace creative thinking instead of having one-dimensional and unproductive thinking. In this article, which is the first from a series of articles on creativity techniques, we discuss brainstorming as the most common and practical tool of creativity.
Brainstorming; a tool for creative thinking
Creativity is born from anguish. Just like the day is born from the dark night. A group of experts on the relationship between needs and creativity believes that meeting needs (at different levels) are a necessary condition for the emergence of new aspirations. The best example is the basic needs of man: "A person who is thirsty or hungry, never thinks of supreme needs, neither wish being communicated far away with others nor flying in the skies! In contrast, many others believe that the need and the existence of a problem are the keys to the birth of creativity. Small and large inventions developed to meet actual or potential needs!
The first step in solving a need or problem is coming up with the right ideas. Different ideas suggest various solutions, express a different view to meet the problem. Such a different view could break the traditional and common assumptions and creates distinct ideas. At first glance, some ideas may seem completely stupid. But these stupid ideas have become the source of many historical changes in human life!
If we look at creativity from the perspective of having new ideas, brainstorming is a very good tool for achieving these ideas. As the name implies, the ultimate goal is to encourage the brains to think in new ways. By responding to a specific question or issue, participants in a brainstorming session express their suggestions or ideas quickly and spontaneously without much mental background or bias.
In a free and dynamic environment, this method can be considered as a kind of disagreement of expressed ideas that leads to the maturing of ideas gradually. Obviously, in order to make the most of the results of this technique, one should avoid actions such as disapproving, vilification, and make fun of ideas, as well as removing them.
In general, the goal of brainstorming is to create as many ideas as possible in the shortest possible time, and it is assumed that the more ideas presented, the more likely it is to find an effective and efficient solution.
Brainstorming technique in action
Brainstorming was first introduced by a creative and optimistic American advertising director named Alex Osborn. In his book, “Applied Imagination, he proposes a simple approach based on "individual participation" and "indirect thinking." Based on this approach, everyone as an audience is encouraged to come up with ideas that, even at first, may seem silly. The irresponsible expression of these initial ideas, along with a bit of management and change, creates flashes in the minds of others that ultimately introduce new solutions to the problem.
Despite the many benefits of brainstorming and its relatively simple and unpredictable process, many individuals and even businesses are unable to conduct an effective brainstorming session and, after several unsuccessful attempts, may view it as a useless and fanciful management technique. It should be noted that brainstorming sessions have their own necessities and we must consider their implementation and application with full coverage of the requirements and preconditions.
The first thing to consider is the meeting space and related requirements. A brainstorming session requires a facilitator or coordinator as well as a reporter or secretary. Simple and calm physical space (for example, a separate meeting room, free space, etc.), for a period of at least 20 to 30 minutes. Some equipment requirements can also help to hold meetings as well as possible, such as cards or notebooks with different colors, pencils (to record and cluster ideas), workflow diagrams, and a laptop or projector (to display questions).
The next matter is the timing and clarifying why brainstorming sessions are conducted. It should be noted that brainstorming sessions do not require much peculiar equipment and its preparation process is not complicated. This is not just an advantage, it is, in fact, the inherent nature of this technique that, if distorted, will destroy all benefits.
In other words, a brainstorming session can be held in the shortest time and with just a short session. As soon as a problem arises or you feel the need for consensus to create new ideas, the meeting can be held quickly and without any special formalities and with only conventional paperwork in the workplace, practically it needs no special thing. Remember that to create an idea, it is enough for people to be free from their intellectual frameworks and to create and design their ideas freely.
Approaches to brainstorming sessions can be classified into two main groups:
Separate brainstorming: To overcome a particular problem or challenge, invite a group of available people to propose their suggestions. After collecting the ideas presented during the brainstorming process, they can be grouped, modified, prioritized, and used as needed. In this method, there is no requirement for the initial participants to be present in the subsequent processes, and these individuals, depending on the quantity and quality of their ideas and readiness to participate, can also attend the next sessions.
Continuous brainstorming (a workshop consisting of several brainstorming sessions): In this case, during several different sessions, ideas are presented and explored. Given that there will be the ability to analyze and even select the ideas presented in previous sessions, so it seems that this method is a good strategy for creating effective ideas. In addition, in the ongoing brainstorming sessions, the participation of the people present in the meetings increases, and, as a result, their sense of proprietorship and commitment to the proposed issue increases.
The next discussion is the process of applying the brainstorming technique; a standard brainstorming process consists of the following steps:
1. Question design and problem definition: First it is necessary to define the problem well. This helps the addressees to organize their minds to come up with effective and innovative ideas. Asking a good question is an integral and very key part of a good brainstorming session. Display the issue or problem in the form of a question, preferably using a video projector or even a whiteboard. This will keep everyone focused on the subject and will not cause any distractions during the discussions. Note that asking multiple questions in one session is confusing and reduces the effectiveness of the sessions.
۲. Choosing the right place: As mentioned, the location of brainstorming sessions is very important. It is recommended that for groups of less than 10 people, you use an informal place (such as a park, production workshop, etc.) and if the number of people is more than 10 people, choose a quiet place.
3. Bring up-to-date and inviting people: Before holding brainstorming sessions, invite the people you think are interested in the matter. Be careful not to consider only experts and specialists when picking people. The presence of beginners and even those who are less familiar with the subject area can ensure a different look at the question and the creation of new ideas. Do not worry about the poor quality of the ideas, if the problem was to be solved only with the opinions of experts, there would be no need for creativity and brainstorming sessions!
4. Preparing the proper atmosphere: It is better to combine the beginning of the session with an inspiring activity. Making a friendly atmosphere can increase people's ideas and participation. So try to tell an interesting story and bring it up after people get involved.
5. Explain the rules of the meeting: Tell the audience how to hold the meeting and its rules. For example, emphasize that all ideas, whether raw or logical, are acceptable. Make it clear that even an apparently silly idea can make a creative leap. Participants should know that expressing strange ideas is preferable to being silent and non-participation.
6. Getting feedback: The session continues by thinking and writing ideas in response to the question. Give everyone a few minutes to comment. Ask them to come up with the first thoughts that come to mind. This should be done quickly and loudly without much thought. At this stage, no one has the right to criticize or judge ideas. (Sometimes, posting comments on a piece of paper and a pen could help shy people to get involved in discussions easily.)
7. Discussion of ideas: Collect all the written answers and read them to the audience. If the number of people present at the meeting is large, have an overview of them. Be a little quiet at the end of reviewing other people's ideas and opinions. Summarize the flow of ideas and after the final silence, summarize and express the selected opinions. Clustering and processing ideas, even immediately and in the very first session, is a bit ambitious, but if you get to it, the brainstorming session is the best answer!
The do's and don'ts of brainstorming
Brainstorming is an idea generation process. Under this technique, group members are encouraged to generate ideas to solve the given problems. These ideas may range from wild ideas to the most sophisticated ones. The objective is – not to restrict the thinking process by putting limitations. It operates on the premise that “The best way to get good ideas is to have lots of ideas.” This requires the observance of unwritten rules, which can be considered as the basic principles of brainstorming. These rules are as follows:
A) Express any idea that comes to your mind.
B) Judgment, criticism, and evaluation are prohibited, especially in the stage of expressing opinions and expressing ideas.
C) No one owns the idea (individual considerations for expressing criticism of an idea, such as confronting the idea owner or insisting that the idea work) are irrelevant).
D) Do not define the scope of the problem as too limited or too broad.
E) The face of the issue should be short and clear.
F) Brainstorming includes two main stages of idea making and evaluation. Unfortunately, this perspective often causes us to become more on the first stage and the second stage is neglected sometimes.
Types of brainstorming methods
A) Silent brainstorming:
Although brainstorming is a great tool for creative brainstorming, sometimes meetings are dominated by certain people. The silent brainstorming strategy helps to control these dominant voices and prevent others from being relegated. In this strategy, the whole session continues by writing ideas on a card or sheet. It is even possible to express opinions and review ideas in writing and in the form of writing a period on notes and reviewing them by the chair of the meeting.
B) Written brainstorming:
This method is useful for getting a lot of ideas from small groups of about 4 to 8 people. Each person starts with a piece of paper on which the problem is written. Then he writes his idea. This paper is given to the next person so that he/she can write his / her idea on it. First, each person reads the previous person's idea and then writes their own idea or comments on the previous person's idea. This cycle is repeated until the partnership ends. The output will be a list of multiple and modified ideas.
C) Brainstorm 5-3-6:
In this case, each person in each round of creating ideas must present 3 ideas. The number 5 indicates the time required to submit these ideas (5 minutes) and the number 6 indicates the number of people submitting the idea. This technique is mostly used to save time and prevent the dominance of one or two prominent people in brainstorming sessions.
D) Circulation brainstorming:
In the brainstorming method, everyone has to comment. To do this, each participant writes down their ideas and, after a certain amount of time, puts them aside. The added idea can be based on the previous idea or completely independent. This process is repeated until no other idea is proposed and the ideas remain constant throughout the cycle.
E) Reverse brainstorming:
Sometimes, standard brainstorming can lead you astray and even waste time and resources. The reverse brainstorming technique can be a way to overcome this challenge. First, determine the purpose of your brainstorming session, and then begin the session with a question about how to do the exact opposite.
C) Stellar explosion brainstorming:
Many people prefer asking questions to express ideas. Question-based brainstorming has been developed in this direction with the aim of maximizing the participation of individuals. This process consists of a new idea or suggestion that the participants have to answer questions about. Draw a star and center the idea. Attendees should ask the questions "Who?" what? Why? When? How?" Respond to the idea. In each round, questions are asked that are inspired by previous answers.
G) Nominal group technique:
This technique is based on the silent brainstorming method. Attendees write their ideas separately and silently for 5 to 10 minutes, and then the ideas are shared in turn. After all the ideas are registered in the first round, a group discussion is formed, and finally, through voting, the ideas are ranked. Next, the top ideas for more brainstorming remain on the table. It should be noted that the nominal group technique, like other team activities, requires an experienced facilitator and session manager, and even teaching the method to individuals can take several sessions.
H) Storm role technique:
Brainstorming is an efficient technique, yet with many operational limitations. One of these limitations is that it is not suitable for people with low self-esteem. On the other hand, after coming up with a relatively interesting idea, people are mostly drawn to it and subconsciously try to comment on it. This is also true of rejected ideas, and even if there are hidden benefits, people do not value that idea. It should be noted that a rejected idea may be re-evaluated after further discussion. In the role storm technique, the audience assumes themselves in other roles and characters. This helps participants to look at the issue from other angles and not fall into the trap of previous judgments