Practical Methodology

1. Choose a recorder. Someone must be put in charge of writing down all the ideas.

Preferably, the ideas should be written on a board or butcher papered walls so that the whole brainstorming group can see them. Lacking this, ideas should be put down on paper. In an ideal session, the recorder should be a non participant in the brainstorming session, since it's hard to be thoughtful and creative and write down everything at the same time. But in small sessions, the recorder is usually a participant, too. For a one-person brainstorming session, using an idea map on a large piece of paper is useful. Butcher paper on the walls is good, too. (Large writing helps keep your ideas in front of you. In fact, some people have said that using 11 by 17 inch paper instead of 8.5 by 11 inch increases their creativity. Why not try it?)

2. Organize the chaos. For groups of more than three or four, have a moderator to choose who will offer an idea next, so that several people don't speak at once. The moderator should prefer those with ideas that tag onto previous ideas, then those with new ideas. If necessary the moderator will also remind members of the group not to inject evaluation into the session (in case a member tsks, sneers, says, "Oh, come on," and so forth).

3. Keep the session relaxed and playful. The creative juices flow best when participants are relaxed and enjoying themselves and feeling free to be silly or playful. Eat popcorn or pizza or ice cream or make paper airplanes or doodles while you work, even if the problem itself is deadly serious like cancer or child abuse. Don't keep reminding everyone that "this is a serious problem" or "that was a tasteless joke."

As an aid to relaxation and a stimulation to creativity, it is often useful to begin with a ten-minute warm-up session, where an imaginary problem is tackled. Thinking about the imaginary problem loosens people up and puts them into a playful mood. Then the real problem at hand can be turned to. Some imaginary problem topics might include these:

how to heat a house more efficiently how to light a house with a single light bulb how to improve your travel from home to work inventing a new game for the Olympics how to improve institutional food without increasing its cost

4. Limit the session. A typical session should be limited to about fifteen or twenty minutes. Longer than that tends to become dragging. You should probably not go beyond thirty minutes, though thirty is the "ideal" length recommended by Alex Osborn.

5. Make copies. After the session, neaten up the list and make copies for each member of the session. No attempt should be made to put the list in any particular order.

6. Add and evaluate. The next day (not the same day) the group should meet again. First, ideas thought of since the previous session should be shared (entered on the photocopied lists). Then the group should evaluate each of the ideas and develop the most promising ones for practical application.

During the evaluation session, wild ideas are converted to practical ones or used to suggest realistic solutions. The emphasis is now on analysis and real world issues. Some brainstormers divide the ideas found to be useful into three lists: A. Ideas of immediate usefulness. These are the ideas you will be able to use right now.B. Areas for further exploration. These are ideas that need to be researched, followed up, thought about, discussed more fully, and so on. C. New approaches to the problem. These are ideas that suggest new ways of looking at the situation. Note here that evaluation does not take place on the same day as the brainstorming session. This fact keeps the idea session looser (no fear that evaluation is coming soon) and allows incubation time for more ideas and time for thinking about the ones suggested. Variations

1. Stop and Go. For stop and go brainstorming, ideas are generated for three to five minutes. Then the group is silent (and thinking) for three to five minutes. Then ideas are given out for another three to five. This pattern alternates for the entire session.

2. Sequencing. In this technique, the moderator goes in order from one member of the group to the next in turn or sequence. Each member gives whatever ideas he then has, and they are written down. If a member has no ideas, he just says, "Pass," and the next member responds. This movement in turn or around the table continues throughout the session. (Sequencing has been said to nearly double the number of ideas generated in a brainstorming session.)

Try It Yourself

Brainstorming. Choose one of the following problems for a brainstorming session. Generate at least 35 ideas for solving the problem. Then distill this list into at least three practical, effective ideas.

1. A new snack food2. How to keep rowdy children quiet on a schoolbus 3. How to get more tourists into the United States4. How compatible people can meet each other for romance5. How to reduce hospital costs6. How to reduce airport congestion and delays7. A name for a new laundry detergent8. How to keep your car keys safe at the beach9. A new toy10. A new electronic consumer product_

Idea Generating Questions

Asking questions to stimulate curiosity and creativity has proven helpful for all kinds of endeavors, whether problem solving, product development, inventing, or communication. A written list of mind-stimulating questions is useful because it reminds us of approaches and possibilities that we otherwise would not have in mind. Yes, it is sometimes possible to be creative in a thorough and even orderly way. Another of Alex Osborn's contributions to creative thinking is a special list of questions designed to spur creative interaction with ideas and things. His list has become a classic one. Not all questions apply to all ideas under consideration, but there will always be a few questions that stimulate thinking, regardless of what is being considered.

Osborn's Questions

Put to other uses? New ways to use as is? Other uses if modified?

Adapt? What else is like this? What other idea does this suggest? Does past offer parallel? What could I copy? Whom could I emulate?

Modify? New twist? Change meaning, color, motion, sound, odor, form, shape? Other changes?

Magnify? What to add? More time? Greater frequency? Stronger? Higher? Longer? Thicker? Extra value? Plus ingredient? Duplicate? Multiply? Exaggerate? Minify? What to subtract? Smaller? Condensed? Miniature? Lower? Shorter? Lighter? Omit? Streamline? Split up? Understate?

Substitute? Who else instead? What else instead? Other ingredient? Other material? Other process? Other power? Other place? Other approach? Other tone of voice?

Rearrange? Interchange components? Other pattern? Other layout? Other sequence? Transpose cause and effect? Change pace? Change schedule? Reverse? Transpose positive and negative? How about opposites? Turn it backward? Turn it upside down? Reverse roles? Change shoes? Turn tables? Turn other cheek? Combine? How about a blend, an alloy, an assortment, an ensemble? Combine units? Combine purposes? Combine appeals? Combine ideas?

The Journalistic Six

These are the six key questions that journalism students are taught to answer somewhere in their news articles to make sure that they have covered the whole story. For creative thinkers, these questions stimulate thinking about the idea in question and allow approaches to it from various angles.

1. Who? (Actor or Agent) Who is involved? What are the people aspects of the problem? Who did it, will do it? Who uses it, wants it? Who will benefit, will be injured, will be included, will be excluded?

2. What? (Act) What should happen? What is it? What was done, ought to be done, was not done? What will be done if X happens? What went or could go wrong? What resulted in success?

3. When? (Time or Timing) When will, did, should this occur or be performed? Can it be hurried or delayed? Is a sooner or later time be preferable? When should the time be if X happens?

4. Where? (Scene or Source) Where did, will, should this occur or be performed? Where else is a possibility? Where else did the same thing happen, should the same thing happen? Are other places affected, endangered, protected, aided by this location? Effect of this location on actors, actions?

5. Why? (Purpose) Why was or is this done, avoided, permitted? Why should it be done, avoided, permitted? Why did or should actor do it? Different for another actor, act, time, place? Why that particular action, rule, idea, solution, problem, disaster, and not another? Why that actor, time, location, and not another?

6. How? (Agency or Method) How was it, could it be, should it be done, prevented, destroyed, made, improved, altered? How can it be described, understood? How did beginning lead to conclusion?

Historical Examination

These questions are especially useful for generating ideas for improving something (the evolutionary approach), but they also help to break thinking out of the evolutionary mode and put it into the revolutionary mode by returning the thinker to the origin and purpose of the idea or solution. By returning to the roots of the problem, a new vision can be created.

1. Essence. What is it? object, concept? What is it made of? What is its real, elementary nature? What are its parts? What is it like, unlike? (Similes and metaphors help in understanding abstractions). What is it related to? What are its various kinds, facets, shades? What is it a part of? Which part of it is unusual or outstanding? In what forms does it appear? Is it typical or atypical of its kind? What is it not? What is it opposed to? How is it different? What makes it different?

2. Origin. Where did it come from? How was it made or conceived or developed? What caused it? If an idea, how did it arise? Are its origins meaningful now? What makes it spread or multiply or gain adherents? What was the reason behind it? Is the reason still valid or useful? Why? Why not? Is it still needed? What influences it? Does it change? Can it, should it be changed, strengthened, eliminated? What could have prevented, delayed, encouraged it?

3. Purpose. What does it do? How does it work? What is its purpose? Is the purpose fulfilled? Better than by its predecessor? Can it, should it be improved? Is it helpful or harmful in intent? What are its implications; what does it lead to? Does it have obvious or hidden consequences? Does it have more than one purpose? What are its immediate effects and its long-term effects? Is its actual function the same as the original purpose intended by its originator? Can it be put to other uses?

4. Import. What is its overall significance? What is its significance to man, environment, civilization, happiness, virtue, safety, comfort, etc.? How is it important? Is it a key element in life, civilization, local area, one man's existence? Is it necessary? Is it desirable?

5. Reputation. What do you think about it? What are your underlying assumptions? What do others think about it? Do you find consensus, division? Is it good, bad, helpful, harmful in fact or in the opinion of others? Can you resolve any differences between truth and opinion, intent, and actuality, pro and con members? What weaknesses are commonly identified? Are there obvious areas of desired change or improvement or elimination?

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