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Brainstorming by Mahmood Noman

This month I want to focus on a technique that I find most useful in (a) creating new ideas and (b) helping to solve problems.  It’s called brainstorming.  It originated during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s when advertising director Alex Osborn developed a technique for generating new product slogans and ad campaign ideas amongst his employees.

Funnily enough, research shows unequivocally that brainstorming groups produce fewer and poorer quality ideas than the same number of individuals working alone. Yet firms continue to use brainstorming as a technique for generating ideas.  Given the research findings, why am I advocating this?  Well, in my experience it does work and it is very hard to get the same individuals to work alone to create high quality ideas.

Brainstorming is a very useful technique especially when working in large interdisciplinary and diverse teams as it allows everyone to have a voice.  It needs little in terms of resource and it’s easy enough to manage.  It’s successful because it actively involves team members in bigger picture issues and gets a team working together.

Let me explain how it works.  First of all, and contrary to popular belief, it is actually a very structured process; although to an outsider it may seem quite random!  It follows a set of rules and the process is described below for you.  Critical to its success are two things.

  1. A good facilitator. The process places a significant burden on the facilitator to manage the process, people’s involvement and sensitivities, and then to manage the follow up actions.
  2. A flip-chart or somewhere to write up contributions which everyone needs to be able to see.

The brainstorming process

  1. Define and agree the objective.
  2. Brainstorm ideas and suggestions having agreed a time limit.
  3. Categorise/condense/combine/refine.
  4. Assess/analyse effects or results.
  5. Prioritise options/rank list as appropriate.
  6. Agree action and timescale.
  7. Control and monitor follow-up.

A walk-through the process

Ensure everyone participating in the brainstorming session understands and agrees the aim of the session (e.g. to identify costs saving opportunities).  Keep the brainstorming objective simple. Allocate a time limit as this will help to keep the brainstorming activity under control and on track.

Managing the process

The facilitator’s role is to encourage everyone to participate, to dismiss nothing, and to prevent others from pouring scorn on the wilder suggestions.  During the random collection of ideas the facilitator must record every suggestion on the flip-chart. At the end of the time limit or when ideas have been exhausted, the facilitator will often use different coloured pens to categorise, group, connect and link the random ideas. S/he may condense and refine the ideas by making new headings or lists. With the group they will then assess, evaluate and analyse the effects and validity of the ideas or the list.


Agree (a) what the next actions will be (b) a timescale and (c) who is responsible. After the session the facilitator will circulate notes, monitor and give feedback. When group members see that their efforts have resulted in action and change, they are more likely to be motivated and keen to help again.

If you can use brainstorming well, you will almost certainly see excellent results in improving the organisation, performance, and team.  For further information on brainstorming and other essential skills please have a look at this informative site www.mindtools.com

I do hope you’ve found the above information informative.  Thanks for the feedback, please keep it coming.  Contact [email protected]

Mahmood Noman is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and a Member of the Chartered Management Institute.

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