Brainstorming is believed to be the brainchild of Alex Osborn in the early part of the 20th century. It has come to be the methods that most organizations use to solve problems and come up with new ideas. But brainstorming has been scrutinized in recent years and leads people to wonder if it is still effective.
The traditional method has teams of up to 10 people gather in a room. A team leader is a mediator who makes sure the rules are followed. The rules are relatively simple: the first round offers no critique of the ideas, the subsequent rounds the group discusses which ideas should stay and which should go. This continues until the objective is met or there are only one or two ideas left.
Critics of this traditional method of brainstorming state that not every member of the group will participate and will yield to the strongest personalities. They also point to studies that have shown that individuals tend to come up with better ideas on their own than in groups. These critics also suggest that limiting the discussion in the first stage may actually prevent getting to other solutions that will not be included.
Yet, organizations have created some innovative products due to the use of brainstorming as laid out by Osborn. It’s something that has been used for many decades and due to its success, will continue to be a mainstay in these organizations. As for member participation, team leaders should make every effort to get involvement from each member. This is the main reason for not allowing critiques of ideas in the first stage. If the team leader gets a few of the quieter members to start participating, it becomes much easier for the rest of the group to follow along.
Proponents of brainstorming will say that idea generation or problem solving gets better as the group practices the methods. The team will be a stronger unit the more sessions they are involved with. It also helps when the group sees their ideas being put into use by the organization. The group will be able to claim ownership of the ideas, especially when the organization is successful in their implementation.
Whatever position people take regarding brainstorming, it is a practice that is likely to continue well into the future. Part of that could be due to organizations’ resistance to change. The other likely reason is the old adage that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
When you’re part of an Advisory Panel, brainstorming will become a natural way to problem solve, a method we would encourage you to use in your work environment.