problem solving (Demo)

A Simple Approach to Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a common technique that has been used by many industries to engage others in creative problem solving and generating new solutions. Here are the basic steps for brainstorming.

1. Have the right people at the session. Who are the “right” people? The right people are the people who have the information and can contribute to the ideas in the session.

2. Have a clear objective or problem statement. It is important not to evaluate ideas during this session. Just hear and record them, either manually or electronically. Have a recorder.

3. Following this initial session, combine like ideas. Elevate ideas to better ideas. Finally, retain the best of the best.

The Pitfalls of Brainstorming

A pitfall of brainstorming to avoid is suppression due to intimidation. Here is an example: A group at NASA called an offsite brainstorming session. The task for the group was to evaluate the risk of developing a rocket. One participant stated a concern about the possibility of having the rocket fall to the floor in the midst of development, thereby damaging the rocket. The brainstorming facilitator dismissed the idea, arguing that it has never happened in the history of NASA. Thus, it was an incident that will never happen. Guess what happened when they built the rocket? So, one good idea that turned out to be a real issue was suppressed due to intimidation.

Reverse Thinking

Another version of brainstorming is what some call reverse thinking. This creative technique is sometimes called anti-brainstorming. If there is a dearth of ideas to solve your problems, apply the brainstorming technique on how you can make it worse. Sounds weird, but it works. Imagine what you need to do to make the situation as bad as possible, and write the resulting ideas on a flip-chart or on post-it notes. Then see if you can translate any of these ideas into its opposite, i.e., improve the situation. This is often a lot of fun and helps reduce tension arising from thinking about the problem.


This is an Anti-Brainstorming example. We asked the students to write down all the barriers that they can think of to communicating with their project team. Then we asked them to come up with ways to overcome those barriers. Students will generally come up with some very creative ideas and solved a problem that they did not think they could solve.

Have you ever led a brainstorming session? If so, please let us know how things went in the process and what the outcome after the sessions.

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