If you’re short on ideas or want a large number of ideas quickly, use the classic group process called ‘brainstorming’. The process encourages divergent thinking among group members as they collectively address an issue confronting the organisation. Here are the steps to follow…

1. Explain the process to the group.

After familiarising yourself with the steps listed on these pages, outline broadly the brainstorming process to your group. If the approach is new to some participants, begin with a simple practical exercise. For example, ‘To what other uses might a common house brick be put?’ Encourage the group’s creative input, with a recorder listing all the suggestions offered.

2. Discuss the rules for brainstorming.

The brainstorming process has five basic rules which can now be elicited from your group following the introductory exercise. These are:

  • Keep an open mind – suspend criticism on anyone’s idea.
  • Let yourself go – ‘free-wheel’ in terms of using your imagination. No discussion of any item is permitted in the process.
  • Generate as many ideas as possible – all ideas are acceptable; quantity is encouraged.
  • Try to build on the ideas of others by hitchhiking.
  • All ideas are visible to everyone – upfront on a whiteboard or flipsheet.

3. Present the problem to the group.

Preliminaries over, you are now ready to generate ideas that focus on the problem at hand. Make sure that participants have a clear under-standing of the issue to be addressed. If necessary, spend some time talking about the issue as you see it and encourage the views of others before moving into the idea-generating stage. ‘Why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions are appropriate here.

4. Appoint a recorder.

Select a person to write down the ideas mentioned, preferably on a whiteboard or flipsheet that can be seen by everyone. By having someone else record the ideas, you are free to lead the process.

5. State the problem in clear terms and begin.

People often see an organisational problem through different eyes, so it is important to state the focus issue in terms that all participants understand clearly. List off various statements of the issue at hand before selecting the one that expresses the issue most succinctly. Display the selected statement in bold letters before the group. Give everyone a minute or two in silence to think about the question, before calling on the group to begin brainstorming ideas. All suggestions, no matter how ‘off-beat’, are recorded and numbered for ease of reference later. Allow no discussion at this point or the flood of ideas may be suppressed.

6. Synthesise similar ideas.

When the creativity of the group has been exhausted, have participants identify statements or ideas which are alike – for example, ‘Numbers 4, 7, and 14′. Compile and record a new statement which incorporates these points and remove the superseded statements or ideas from the list.

7. Group the ideas.

In grouping the ideas listed, you will find they probably form into three groups:

  • The impossible – those about which very little can be done (often these are the ‘off-beat’ ideas).
  • The unlikely – those with little hope of implementation but which cannot be ruled out completely at this stage.
  • The possible – those you can address and which can be given immediate attention.

8. Give priority to the best ideas.

When you have identified the ‘possibles’ and eliminated the ‘unlikelies’, place the ideas in priority order. Finally, develop an action plan to address the problem under review.

9. Consider the alternative – brainwriting.

If members of the group are shy or intimidated by the competitive or open nature of brainstorming, brainwriting is an alternative. Each member lists four ideas on a sheet of paper which is placed on a central table in exchange for another’s completed sheet. Fresh ideas foster more ideas. Participants continue to add ideas to the sheet taken from the pool, exchanging it for a new sheet whenever additional stimulus is needed. All the sheets are later collected and processed as outlined in 6-8 above.

Or, to counter distance, use e-mail or fax to get the job done… The project leader outlines the project, then e-mails (or faxes) that document, along with a routing list, to the first person on the list. That person provides input and sends it to the next person. The project leader is the last to receive the communication, at which time he or she collates the input and takes appropriate action.

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