What is Brainstorming?

Introduction to Contents:


Meaning of Brainstorming: “Brainstorming is a group creativity technique by which efforts are made to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members.”

Definition of Brainstorming

Process for generating creative ideas and solutions through intensive and freewheeling group discussion. Every participant is encouraged to think aloud and suggests as many ideas as possible, no matter seemingly how outlandish or bizarre. Analysis, discussion, or criticism of the aired ideas is allowed only when the brainstorming session is over and evaluation session begins. See also lateral thinking and nominal group technique.

A common way to generate new business ideas is through brainstorming. In general, brainstorming is simply the process of generating several ideas about a specific topic. The approaches range from a person sitting down with a yellow legal pad and jotting down interesting business ideas to formal “brainstorming sessions” led by moderators that involve a group of people.

In a formal brainstorming session, the leader of the group asks the participants to share their ideas. One person shares an idea, another person reacts to it, another person reacts to the reaction, and so on. A flip chart or an electronic white-board is typically used to record all the ideas. A productive session is freewheeling and lively. The session is not used for analysis or decision making the ideas generated during a brainstorming session need to be filtered and analyzed, but this is done later. Show the four strict rules for conducting a formal brainstorming session. As you’ll see, the number one rule for a brainstorming session is that no criticism is allowed, including chuckles, raised eyebrows, or facial expressions that express skepticism or doubt. Criticism stymies creativity and inhibits the free flow of ideas.

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Formal Brainstorming Session

I. No criticism is allowed, including chuckles, raised eyebrows, or facial expressions that express skepticism or doubt. Criticism stymies creativity and inhibits the free flow of ideas.
II. Freewheeling, which is the carefree expression of ideas free from rules or restraints, is encouraged; the more ideas, the better. Even crazy or outlandish ideas may lead to a good idea or a solution to a problem.
III. The session moves quickly, and nothing is permitted to slow down its pace. For example, it is more important to capture the essence of an idea than to take the time to write it down neatly.
IV. Leapfrogging is encouraged. This means using one idea as a means of jumping forward quickly to other ideas.

Brainstorming sessions dedicated to generating new business ideas are often less formal. For example, as described in more detail in Case 11.2, during the creation of Proactiv, a popular acne treatment product, Dr. Katie Rodan, one of the company’s founders, hosted dinner parties at her house and conducted brainstorming sessions with guests. The guests included business executives, market researchers, marketing consultants, an FDA regulatory attorney, and others. Rodan credits this group with helping her and her co-founder brainstorm a number of ideas that helped shape Proactiv and move the process of starting the company forward. Similarly, Sharelle Klause, the founder of Dry Soda, a company that makes an all-natural soda that’s paired with food the way wine is in upscale restaurants, tested her idea by first talking to her husband’s colleagues, who were in the food industry, and then tapped into the professional network of a friend who owned a bottled water company. Through the process, she met a chemist, who was instrumental in helping her develop the initial recipes for her beverage. Klause also went directly to restaurant owners and chefs to ask them to sample early versions of her product. While this approach only loosely fits the definition of brainstorming, the spirit is the same. Klause was bouncing ideas and early prototypes of her product off others to get their reactions and generate additional ideas. DRY Soda is the subject of Case 9.1.

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Approaches to brainstorming are only limited by a person’s imagination. For example, to teach her students an approach to utilizing brainstorming to generate business ideas, Professor Marcene Sonneborn, an adjunct professor at the Whitman School of Management Syracuse University, uses a tool she developed called the “bug report” to help students brainstorm business ideas. She instructs her students to list 75 things that “bug” them in their everyday lives. The number 75 was chosen because it forces students to go beyond thinking about obvious things that bug them (campus parking, roommates, scraping snow off their windshields in the winter), and think more deeply. On occasions, students actually hold focus groups with their friends to brainstorm ideas and fill out their lists.

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