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What is Brainstorming?
Before you get into what makes the brainstorming process work, you must first define what brainstorming involves and why it is used. Brainstorming is a method of idea generation that seeks to bring suggestions that are out-of-the-ordinary into the realm of our consciousness. It is useful because there may be a problem or situation that needs attention because the regular responses do not seem to work. Brainstorming is therefore commonly used when there is a specific problem to be solved rather than in more general circumstances. One of the common benefits of utilizing this technique is synergy, which comes about when the sum of the parts is equal to more than the individual components. In the context of the discussion on brainstorming this means that each participant may be able to come up with an idea individually, but when put in a room with others, the energy generated often leads to more creative and effective solutions. This type of approach is what eventually leads to answers that are considered to be "outside-the-box". This single positive result is the the reason brainstorming is pursued by corporations large and small because everyone wants to be able to come up with the next huge trend or the next great solution to be one step ahead of the competition.
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Typical Brainstorming Session
Although the point of a brainstorming session is to come up with creative ideas and creativity is usually associated with a more free-flowing approach, the process can still benefit from some degree of structure. The following are just a few ways that brainstorming sessions are usually carried out.
Choose a Note-Taker
While the group of chosen participants are actively spewing ideas someone needs to be in charge of documenting them. Preferably this should be done by someone who is not expected to contribute to the pool of ideas because it can be very difficult to contribute in a meaningful way while also trying to keep up with writing down what others are suggesting. One of the major reasons it is useful to write things down during a brainstorming session is so all participants can see what was already said so they can avoid repetition. Writing things down also serves as a record of everything that was contributed because some good ideas may have been overlooked during the active session.
Select the Participants and Limit the Time
It is important to keep the group manageable so a brainstorming session should not be too large. While brainstorming works better in groups it can also become disorganized if the group is too large. An average of about five persons is usually enough to get the stimulation levels up but if more people must be involved you can consider breaking them up into separate sessions and then compiling the ideas afterwards. When too many participants gather for a session there is a tendancy for meetings to degenerate into shouting matches and there are generally lower levels of productivity.
Keep it Organized
This leads to the need for organization. To avoid everyone talking at once and the chaos that can occur in this type of environment, there are certain brainstorming techniques that can be used. For instance, participants can be asked to sit in a circle and say their ideas one after the other. People may be allowed to pass to keep the pace going because no person should take more than about 30 seconds to come up with a response. Alternatively, you could ask participants to be silent for a few minutes and then to say their ideas one at a time and repeat this process to get ideas in the open. This kind of structured approach turns a process that can quite easily be lost to disrray into a technique that holds a high level of promise for generating fresh ideas.
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Most Important Part of Brainstorming
Some people may say that the most important part of brainstorming is the ability to come up with creative ideas, but this end result is still linked to the need for a lack of judgement or criticism during the session. Creating an environment where all ideas are welcome is absolutely essential to the success of any brainstorming session because if participants feel their ideas will be shunned or laughed at they will naturally hesitate to volunteer them. Therefore, the best way to get the most out of a brainstorming session is to make it clear to participants that all ideas, regardless of how outrageous, are welcome and that judgement should be left at the door.