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THE BASICS OF BRAINSTORMING

By Kimberly Grandal, CTRS, ACC/EDU

I was just sitting here brainstorming about what type of article I should write. What do people want to read or learn more about? What topics need to be addressed? What do I feel comfortable writing about? How much time do I have to write this article and when is it due? I have written numerous articles over the years ranging from documentation, programming, and management tips, to advocacy, self-help, legislative issues, and professionalism. There is so much to write about! But as I was typing these words, I continued to ponder what my next topic should be.  

So, I started actively brainstorming. I thought of what’s coming up in the months ahead. Perhaps there are recognition weeks, holidays or special themes I can write about.  Maybe I should research other managerial topics such as time management or productivity. I also considered writing about various programming techniques or the latest adaptive equipment. Then it dawned on me. I should write about brainstorming!

The Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary defines brainstorming as, “a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group”; also : “the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem.”

Simply stated, brainstorming is a problem solving technique that encourages creative thinking. The concept of brainstorming was introduced in the 1940’s by Advertising Executive Alex F. Osborn.  The primary rule when it comes to brainstorming is that no idea is a bad idea.  This concept is something that Activity and Recreation Professionals really can grasp since we are often “outside the box” thinkers.

There are many benefits to an appropriately facilitated brainstorming session. Some benefits include:

  • Increased creativity
  • Increased teamwork
  • Everyone is involved and has a chance to be heard
  • Increased employee morale and motivation
  • Better work environment
  • Increased productivity
  • Certain individuals may surprise you and impress you with their ideas
  • You may actually solve the problem!

When Osborn first introduced the concept of brainstorming it was called a “think up” process. As stated on Mindtools.com, the original rules included:

  • The goal of a "think up" session would be to come up with as many ideas as possible.
  • There would be absolutely no criticism of any thoughts or ideas.
  • No idea should be considered too outlandish and such ideas would be encouraged.
  • Members of a "think up" team should build upon one another's ideas.

Brainstorming techniques and theories have been further developed over the years but two basic ideas form the foundation of the concept. First and most importantly, there is to be absolutely no criticism or judgments regarding one’s ideas and comments. This is not the time to be analyzing or making decisions.  I’ve been to many meetings in which the group was asked to brainstorm ideas for a particular subject matter or concern. Nothing defeats the purpose of brainstorming more than one single negative comment.

The other critical idea behind brainstorming is the idea that through quantity we will achieve quality. Not all ideas will be great. In fact there may be some ideas that just really aren’t appropriate for the topic at hand, however, the more ideas that are brought to the table, the more chance of finding the right solutions. In addition, group members often brainstorm off of each other’s idea which in turn causes a snowball effect and the potential brilliant solution or idea is born!

There are many tips and techniques that you may find helpful when planning and executing your next brainstorming session. First of all, make sure the topic or problem is brainstorm-worthy and that the participants are aware of the meeting intent beforehand. Not all meetings or gatherings are intended to be brainstorming sessions. The analysis and decision making process can occur at another time.

Preparing for a brainstorming session is just as important as executing one. Designate someone who will be a suitable facilitator. The facilitator should be enthusiastic, fair, a great listener, and be able to acknowledge everyone’s ideas (good, bad, or indifferent). It is also recommended that you have a variety of people present at the meeting. If you are brainstorming about what to do for National Nursing Home Week, then have someone from each department present, as well as a resident and a volunteer perhaps.  The whole point of a brainstorming session is to gather ideas, and what better way than by having individuals with varying educational backgrounds, roles, skills, knowledge, etc.

Just as the environment is important for recreational activities, it is equally crucial to facilitate the brainstorming session in an appropriate area. Be sure to hold the meeting in a quiet area with no distractions. To really demonstrate that all members are equal, it is recommended that the seating be in a horseshoe or circle. There shouldn’t be someone sitting at the “head” of the table.

At the start of the meeting, the facilitator should announce the rules, reinforcing the “no negative feedback” policy. In addition the facilitator should clearly outline the topic at hand and what is expected to be discussed. Participation from everyone present should be encouraged and all ideas are to be acknowledged. There are many ways in which ideas can be documented. Some examples include: flip charts, whiteboards, sticky notes, note pads, a secretary taking notes, tape recorder, and so on. Having ideas written and posted throughout the room really gives a great visual for people to look at and brainstorm off of.

Brainstorming has become a very popular way to address problems and devise solutions therefore it is quite probable that you have already been included in one of these sessions, whether at work or at home. Through proper implementation, brainstorming can really promote teamwork and provide many answers to the question at hand. So put your thinking cap on and let the brainstorming begin!

For more great management tips and information, visit www.recreativeresources.com/management.htm

References

Merriam-Webster(n.d.). Brainstorming. Retrieved March 27, 2011 from 
www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/brainstorming?show=0&t=1301258454

  Mind Tools (n.d). Brainstorming History. Retrieved March 27, 2011 from www.mindtools.com/pages/Supplementary/BrainstormingHistory.htm


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