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brainstorming

Contributor(s): Corinne Bernstein

Brainstorming is a group problem-solving method that involves the spontaneous contribution of creative ideas and solutions. This technique requires intensive, freewheeling discussion in which every member of the group is encouraged to think aloud and suggest as many ideas as possible based on their diverse knowledge.

Brainstorming combines an informal approach to problem-solving with lateral thinking, which is a method for developing new concepts to solve problems by looking at them in innovative ways. Some of these ideas can be built into original, creative solutions to a problem, while others can generate additional ideas.

Some experts believe that brainstorming is better than conventional group interaction, which might be hindered by group think. Group think is a phenomenon that occurs when the team’s need for consensus overshadows the judgment of individual group members.

Although group brainstorming is frequently better for generating ideas than normal group problem-solving, several studies have shown that individual brainstorming can produce better ideas than group brainstorming. This can occur because group members pay so much attention to others’ ideas that they forget or do not create their own ideas. Also, groups do not always adhere to good brainstorming practices.

During brainstorming sessions, participants should avoid criticizing or rewarding ideas in order to explore new possibilities and break down incorrect answers. Once the brainstorming session is over, the evaluation session (which includes analysis and discussion of the aired ideas) begins, and solutions can be crafted using conventional means.

Common methods of brainstorming include mind mapping, which involves creating a diagram with a goal or key concept in the center with branches showing subtopics and related ideas; writing down the steps needed to get from Point A to Point B; "teleporting" yourself to a different time and place; putting yourself in other people’s shoes to imagine how they might solve a problem; and "superstorming," or using a hypothetical superpower such as X-ray vision to solve a problem. 

This was last updated in June 2017

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