A method for generating ideas, intended to inspire the free-flowing sharing of thoughts of an individual or a group of people, typically while withholding criticism in order to promote uninhibited thinking.
Good brainstorming focuses on the quantity and creativity of ideas: the quality of ideas is much less important than the sheer quantity. After ideas are generated, they are often grouped into categories and prioritized for subsequent research or application.
The outcomes of brainstorming are:
Osborn, A. F. (1963). Applied imagination: Principles and procedures of creative problem-solving (Third Revised Edition). New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Paulus, P. B., & Brown, V. R. (2003). Enhancing ideational creativity in groups: Lessons from research on brainstorming. In P. B. Paulus & B. A. Nijstad (Eds.), Group Creativity: Innovation Through Collaboration (pp. 110-136). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Milliken, F. J., Bartel, C. A., & Kurtzberg, T. R. (2003). Diversity and creativity and work groups: A dynamic perspective on the affective and cognitive processes that link diversity and performance. In P. B. Paulus and B. A. Nikstad (Eds.). Group Creativity: Innovation through collaboration. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 32-62.
Paulus, P. B., & Dzindolet, M. T. (1993). Social influence processes in group brainstorming: The illusion of group productivity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 575-586.
Benefits, Advantages and Disadvantages
Brainstorming is useful for:
Participants and Other Stakeholders
The participants are generally a group of people involved in the design of products. Participants can include a wide range of stakeholders (to ensure some diversity) including customers and users of the product.
Brainstorming can be done almost anywhere and requires few materials. Ideas can be written on sticky notes, long rolls of paper, or other inexpensive materials. The ideas can also be recorded using online systems. The materials chosen should be transportable (for example, you might want to use a roll of paper taped to a whiteboard rather than use the whiteboard to make it easy to transport the results).
You can do online brainstorming using blogs, listserv software, or dedicated online brainstorming software.
Who Can Facilitate
The basic brainstorming procedure seems simple enough that anyone could facilitate a session, but the social dynamics of product groups are both complex and subtle so facilitators should have some training on how to:
A facilitator also needs to understand how to organize and analyze the data from brainstorming sessions.
Data Analysis Approach
There are several ways to analyze brainstorming data.
After prioritizing the ideas from a brainstorming session, the best ideas are evaluated further for their feasibility. Ideas that aren’t used can be entered into a database for future use.
Costs and Scalability
People and Equipment
The cost for people and equipment is low. Brainstorming requires a facilitator and a small group of 5-12 people (of course, a single person could brainstorm ideas but a small group is important for some diversity). If you require special participants who are difficult to find and schedule, you could drive up the cost.
Group brainstorming at a single location is not easily scalable beyond 12-15 participants, however, you can employ online brainstorming or use techniques that are suitable for gathering ideas at large meetings (professional conferences for example).
Brainstorming sessions are generally short, lasting from 15 minutes to an hour. Longer sessions are possible, but would require multiple breaks to prevent brainstorming fatigue.
Group brainstorming where people shout out ideas in a group may not work in all cultures or with multi-cultural groups where there are inhibitions about espousing unusual or "out-of-the-box" ideas. If there are cultural inhibitions, you can use brainwriting or the nominal group technique.
Ethical and Legal Considerations
Participants in brainstorming sessions might feel undue pressure to generate "good ideas" if their managers are observing the session. Trying to generate "good ideas" goes against the principle that the shear quantity of ideas is much more important than the quality of ideas.
Since group brainstorming sessions are most effective with small groups, there is the potential problem of people feeling left out if they aren't invited to participate. One solution to this issue is to hold multiple sessions and also provide debriefings to stakeholders who couldn't attend and invite them to submit ideas as well.
The realities of product development mean that many good ideas will not be used. Participants need to understand this and teams should consider ways to keep good ideas available for the next iteration of design or the next version of the product. If participants don't see any ideas from the brainstorming applied to a project, that might result in people feeling as through no one was listening.