Brainstorming is a great way to come up with new ideas for either a new project, or for an old stale one. It can be used in many situations from writing a thesis, starting a large project where direction is lacking, or for even something as small as writing an article. And before you ask, yes, this article was brainstormed before it was written! There are some basic brainstorming techniques which make the whole process easier and helps to turn off the critical mind, and this is very important for brainstorming sessions. Any dissection can wait until later.
In order to make your brainstorming session productive there are a few things that you must take into mind. Even though it may seem like a free for all, there is still structure required. The chaotic part are the ideas rather than the session itself, and this is the place we start:
Set the Brainstorming Rules for this session:
This is needed whether you are in a group of twenty or a single person. Think about what you need to achieve at the end of the session, and for the most part this will be some kind of working plan. With a large group the best idea is to have a facilitator who will keep everyone on track, but a small group or by yourself all you need to do is each person agree, and then enforce it among yourselves.
Some ideas for rules should include the caveat of no criticism during the session. This can wait until the last stage. You can either have each person write down their ideas on paper and collate them at the end, or have a whiteboard where all the ideas are written by one person. Perhaps the best way to make certain that the shy members of the group get their say is to have one idea said at a time per person, and then rotate between the people in the room.
Once the rules are set you can start with the session.
Although it might seem like a good idea to have a session which lasts a long time, you will find that by limiting the session to a short duration will get the ideas out faster. Sometimes it does take a short while to warm up and get everybody in the groove, but don't extend the session unless absolutely necessary.
Take each question to be brainstormed in term and write down all the ideas without comment or dissection.
Brainstorming games can be a great way to add some extra fun to brainstorming sessions, as it can lower people's resistance and open up new avenues. Don't be afraid to look for other brainstorming tools which could help you, such as a whiteboard or butcher's paper for writing down ideas in a group. Notebooks or notepads are most probably better for a small group. But regardless of how you do it, keep going until you've reached your time limit or the end of the flow of ideas or solutions to the problem or you've reached your time limit.
The Next Step:
Now that the brainstorming part of the session has ended you will need to organize and then discard the ideas which have been presented. If you've done this in a group, then this part should also be done in a group, as you may need to clarify certain points.
Once you've sorted and discarded your ideas, the most important step must be taken, and that is to devise a working plan based on your notes. This could be an outline for your article or thesis, or the suggested solutions to the problem for your larger group's session. This can be done either inside or outside of the session, but as a matter of courtesy ensure if you've done this as a group, you get them together to go through the plan that they've helped to create and give them the proper credit they deserve.
Brainstorming doesn't have to be difficult or stressful. A few very easy techniques can make it a fun and very productive process. Ensure you have rules in place before you start, and don't be afraid to enforce them once the session starts. During the session make sure you write down all the ideas without prejudice, and only dissect them at the end. Most importantly, a brainstorming session is designed to come up with a plan, and make sure you do this so that the session, and everyone's time, has not been wasted.