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Brainstorming sounds fascinating. Ideas come up like running water in a brainstorming session. Well, I know “like running water” is a cliché, but don’t criticise yet–this is Brainstorming Rule No. 1.

Image: Danilo Rizzuti / Freedigitalphotos.net

Brainstorming is a relatively new word but the method itself has existed maybe since the beginning of human beings.

It is a method of problem-solving either by a group of people contributing ideas or by one single person generating a variety of possible solutions.

Basically, everyone can have or conduct a brainstorming session, but it requires one who is trained to do so to guarantee a satisfactory outcome.

A failed brainstorming

About eight years ago I was an Account Executive in a PR company with 20 or so employees.

One day I was asked to hold a brainstorming session about how to sell a brand of wine (one of our clients) in night clubs.

I didn’t know what to do except for repeating “what ideas do you have”.

After two or three people spoke up, the room submerged into silence.

It was really awkward. Some colleagues looked at each other while others played with their pencils or bended their heads down reading some papers.

“What the hell went wrong?” I panicked and stood still in front of the whiteboard before my supervisor took over.

I didn’t remember what exactly happened after that, but I did remember we “discussed” some ideas, both positively and negatively.

Brainstorming rules

Most of the time, we discuss instead of brainstorming. There is a huge difference between these two.

Discuss involves opinions and analyses of ideas while brainstorming is to generate ideas themselves. Based on experiences from my failed brainstorming and later on successful ones, I would suggest the following rules for brainstorming, with reference to a post by Dean Rieck titled “How to brainstorm brilliant ideas for your blog“:

  • Don’t criticise ideas, even not discuss them;
  • Define the problem clearly
  • Clarify what ideas you expect;
  • Prepared a few ideas beforehand if you are the conductor, in case no one speaks up after a while;
  • Write down every idea and let everybody see them immediately;
  • Allocate easy time during the session, e.g. one-minute joking or nonsense talking, but do drag everybody back to the table after that;

In fact, there are many sites talking about brainstorming if you are interested. I would like to say a few more words about rule No. 1.

People tend to criticise

To criticise an idea seems easier than coming up with an original one. Why? Maybe criticizing satisfies their self-esteem for making them feel better than others. It is hard to people to hold back the desire to criticise, and many even don’t realize it when they are criticizing others or their ideas.

To some degree, it is human nature to criticise. Let me explain.

When babies start to know things, they learn to refuse to do things they don’t want to. For example, you give them milk, they might push your hand away. “I’m not hungry,” they might say: “drinking milk now is a bad idea.” See?

However, criticising is not always a bad thing. In fact, constructive criticising is more valuable than compliments, especially those I-don’t-actually-mean-it compliments.

To expand this topic, we can discuss criticising as an art, both for those who criticise and those who are criticised. I’ll not go into details on this.

  1. March 3, 2010 at 4:16 am

    This is actually a really good observation. I suppose discussion is easier. And if you cannot come up with good ideas yourself, maybe it makes you feel better if you can shoot down others ideas instead.

  1. June 13, 2010 at 4:31 pm

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