Whether in school, at work, or even just thinking through options with your family or friends, most of us have taken pen to paper (or a marker to a white board) to hash out ideas through the process of brainstorming. The name itself is rather indicative of its function: allowing your brain to flourish and light up with diverse, unique, and practical solutions and ideas at lightning speed.
So what exactly is brainstorming and how can it be a useful life skill for kids and adults of all ages to learn? Read on to see how brainstorming can improve your professional and personal life, when and how to use it, and tips to making your brainstorming sessions a success!
Why Brainstorming is Useful
If you’ve ever worked in a team (or family), you know that situations often arise in which a decision is to be made or a task needs to be completed and it requires a collaborative effort. Brainstorming is one tool or method that can be used to accomplish this task, whether it’s something that affects your personal, professional, or academic life.
It allows for every person to provide their input in a respectful manner and capitalizes on group energy to churn out creative solutions and ideas. As a bonus, brainstorming can be done in-person with a group or even virtually over a streaming service.
Brainstorming encourages critical thinking skills, sparks the imagination, gives participants a chance to share their thoughts and ask questions, and helps clear the mind.
Keep in mind that brainstorming can actually be done solo or with almost any amount of people. But it’s important to note that in large group settings (classroom, teams), breaking people up into brainstorming groups will help eliminate distractions, give everyone an opportunity to participate, and reduce the time it takes to complete the brainstorming sessions. Groups can then reconvene together to share their findings and brainstorming notes.
What Supplies are Needed to Brainstorm
Here’s the great news: brainstorming can be free or require very little supplies or money! All that is needed are writing utensils, paper or a whiteboard/chalkboard, willing participants, and dedicated space and time to complete the brainstorming.
But here are some helpful tips to keep your brainstorming process smooth and efficient:
- Provide paper and writing utensils to each of the participants so that they can write down ideas
- Post-It notes can be a great tool as well
- Keep it fun by considering using fun, colorful markers and providing stickers
- Using a whiteboard, chalkboard, or large easel paper with sticky backing can help ensure every participant can see the main brainstorming list
- Computers, tablets, or other digital devices can also be used for notetaking and sharing
- Participants can also doodle or draw ideas if that is a preferred style of brainstorming
Tips for the Brainstorming Process
There is no true right or wrong way to brainstorm, as it can be customized based on the individual or group’s needs. However, there is a generally-accepted process that will set the stage for brainstorming, keeps the process efficient, encourages progress and meeting of goals, and allows for participants to feel engaged.
It’s important that ground rules are set before a brainstorming session to ensure that everyone feels respected, safe, and comfortable sharing their ideas and speaking up. This could include remembering that no ideas is a bad idea, practicing active listening, remembering to give every person a chance to speak, reminding participants to stay on topic, and using appropriate language, etc. Asking participants to help set the ground rules can be a good way to hold them accountable as well.
One ground rules are set, it can be helpful to ask for volunteers for a few specific roles, including a notetaker, a moderator, and a timekeeper. These roles can be accepted by any age group and modified based on their skills and abilities. If you are brainstorming alone, you essentially take on all of these roles.
The notetaker can take notes during the session, keep track of any follow up items, and then share them with the group via email afterwards.
A moderator’s role entails keeping the conversation on topic, giving everyone a chance to speak, helping to resolve any conflict, and asking clarifying questions.
A timekeeper helps by reminding the group how much longer they have for each specific portion of the brainstorming session and the overall time.
The Process of Brainstorming
Once ground rules are set and roles are defined, brainstorming can begin!
- Select the topic you’ll be brainstorming (examples: What to Name our Business, How to Launch our Next Product, Marketing Ideas, Family Vacation Ideas, Chore List, etc.)
- Set a timer and allow the timekeeper to keep track. Brainstorming is meant to be a quick process (usually 30 minutes or less) in an effort to hold the attention of the participants.
- The moderator can present questions and the notetaker can write down the answers as the process unfolds.
- Participants should provide as many ideas and as much information as possible during a relatively short time.
- Remember to stay focused, don’t allow criticism of others’ ideas, have fun, and go wild with your ideas!
- Once the session is over, be sure that the notetaker sends all notes and follow up tasks to the group.
One of the other vital skills that brainstorming teaches is how to have an open mind. As participants listen to others in the group, their mind is often sparked with additional ideas and solutions. Additionally, they may be introduced to concepts, beliefs, and methods that they aren’t familiar with so it can truly be a multi-faceted learning experience. The group energy of brainstorming can be very dynamic and powerful and lead to incredible problem solving and amazingly rewarding success!