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Best practice in brainstorming

In the previous step you did a simple rapid design ideation process by brainstorming in the comments.

Design and innovation thrive on creativity and lateral thinking: finding new ways of looking at problems by generating ideas and working through unusual solutions.

image: Post it notes

It’s easy to feel daunted by the idea of having to have ideas, especially if you don’t think of yourself as a creative person. If you feel like that, there are a few things to bear in mind, as we discussed in the previous steps:

  • The best way to increase your chance of having good ideas is by having LOTS of ideas. Go for quantity!
  • Innovative ideas are often prompted by connecting or combining existing ideas in an unexpected way.
  • Suspend your judgement. It’s fine to have wild ideas, obvious ideas or even silly ideas. Just capture them now and analyze them later.

You’ve already been sharing your ideas with other learners in the Comments section. While you can brainstorm with others or in small groups, sometimes you will have to come up with your ideas all by yourself. There are several techniques you can use for this:

  • Word association: Think of a central idea or problem, then write down a few words that you immediately associate with those ideas.
  • Free writing: Give yourself fifteen minutes to write down anything that comes to mind.
  • Mind maps: Create a diagram of your thoughts. Start by writing your main idea in the middle of a sheet, then add any related thoughts, ideas or concepts that you can connect to it, linking these with lines.
  • Note cards: Writing each idea on a separate card is a great way to organise your thoughts. You can move them around and group them in any order, remove any that no longer work, and possibly share your cards with others as part of a follow up group activity.

Brainstorming with people helps you think broadly around a topic and gather diverse, unusual perspectives. If you are brainstorming in a group, it is often better to give people quiet thinking time at the start of a session to come up with ideas on their own, as this allows quieter people to contribute in a more comfortable way.

The most basic brainstorming technique is to come up with as many ideas as possible, making a note of each quickly as you go. These can be shared with the group and then a second round allows participants to build on each other’s ideas.

Other activities could include:

  • Using surprising combinations to create new ideas. For example, take a thing in your bag plus a thing you’d buy from the pharmacy: what new product ideas could you get from combining the two items?
  • Creating five of the worst ideas you can think of. Make them really, really bad. Now, how could you fix them?
  • Passing on three of your ideas to the person on your right. Then, get them to create three new ideas from each of them. Work silently in writing at the start, so that you can capture ideas from quieter colleagues, without comment or critique.
  • Introduce stimulus. Cut up and collage images and headlines from magazines to make mood boards, then discuss them to create more ideas.
  • Crazy Eights sketches. Get everyone to fold a sheet of paper in half three times, then give them eight minutes to sketch an idea in each of the eight unfolded panels. It doesn’t matter how scrappy the drawings are: drawing often helps people to think differently.
  • Use ‘SCAMPER’: this stands for substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate, or reverse. How could you use each method to come up with a new approach? You can see this SCAMPER activity in more detail in the FutureLearn course The Enterprise Shed: Making Ideas Happen.

When you’re brainstorming with a group, it helps to remember the following:

  • Stay focused on the topic. Your ‘How Might We…?’ question is a useful way to frame your ideas and guide conversation.
  • Everyone is equal. Watch out for more senior people dominating conversations. Good ideas can come from anyone, so listen carefully and don’t talk across people.
  • Let people respond to each other’s ideas and build on them. Remember to get everyone to stay open and encouraging in their language, using ‘Yes, and…’ and avoiding ‘No, but…’.
  • Don’t go on too long - it’s tiring! An hour or two, with a break and different activities, is plenty for a group brainstorming meeting.

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This article is from the free online course:

Get Creative with People to Solve Problems

University of Leeds