This is one of the best known and most abused of the idea generation techniques. It is intended to encourage divergent thinking and the generation of a large number of ideas for whatever the purpose might be:problem solving, new product ideas, a newborn's name, etc. As it is done openly in a group, though it can be done alone, it is vulnerable to all the potential ills of any group process unless the guidelines are discussed and rigorously followed.
1. Get the right individuals involved. In an organizational setting you want all your stakeholders involved, and you may want to get those individuals who are known for their abilities at divergent thinking - you will, after all, evaluate ideas later on.
2. Clarify the purpose of the meeting: to generate a large number of ideas. It may help to ensure the group that you will spend time sorting through the ideas after you have a large list.
3. Review and discuss the Guidelines for Brainstorming (there are many versions of these, one is provided below). It may be helpful to provide a written copy as you review the guidelines. Once a group is familiar and accepting of these guidelines you will not need this step except as a reminder.
4. Take all ideas and record them. Ideas can come randomly, in which case you may want to establish a rule of taking only one from any individual at a time, or you may want to go round robin. While the round robin structure is forced, it provides a way make sure that someone really good at divergent thinking does not dominate the group process. If you use round robin, allow for individuals to "pass" if they don't have an idea at the moment. They may have one at the next round.
5. Go around the group several times. It may help, if the group stalls, to throw out a random thought to encourage more ideas. Perhaps they could build on an idea already offered, or the opposite of an idea offered, or how might someone in a competitive organization approach the same issue.
6. When the group seems exhausted of ideas, you may want to review them one more time. This ensures that you captured the ideas as they were offered, and it may spark another series of ideas.
7. Thank the group, and confirm what happens next to the ideas. It is useful in many cases to share the ideas back to the group that generated them. They then see the results of the work, may find they have new ideas, and it ensures them that the work will proceed.
Guidelines for Brainstorming:
All ideas should be captured.
Absolutely no criticism of ideas is allowed.
Wild and crazy ideas are welcomed.
Evaluation of ideas will occur after the brainstorming.
Stay focused on the task.
It is OK to build on someone else's idea.
Track all ideas. They should be captured in the words of the one who offered the idea as much as possible.
Agree to the amount of time to be spent brainstorming.