Brainstorming 101

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” -John Donne

Books or reports (or any other content for that matter) do not just write themselves. Rather, the content therein comes from knowledge learned and knowledge lived. In short, knowledge and skills learned in a formal setting such as a school and knowledge and skills gained from work and life experiences.

Common to all endeavours at generating content, irrespective of the number of authors, is brainstorming; that is, sketching ideas or possible solutions to a given problem. Brainstorming may either be by an individual or group discussion. And which method depends on the project at hand (say individual brainstorming for a novel and group brainstorming for a company’s report).

And just like any other endeavour, brainstorming for content should be set in such a way that it maximises productivity. The following pointers can go a long way in achieving this. For group brainstorming, we’ll work with a report while for individual reporting we’ll work with an article to illustrate this.

Group brainstorming
Typically involving a number of people, a group brainstorming session may provide wonderful ideas and solutions to a problem. Conversely, it might degenerate into a clash of egos or slide into sideshows if not properly managed.

A group brainstorming, just like any other meeting, should have an agenda. Such an agenda ensures that the participants limit themselves to the task at hand; in our case, developing a report. Ideas generated for the report might centre on objectives, activities, methodologies and key messages to be incorporated in the report. Moreover, a detailed agenda ensures that time is utilised effectively as each menu on the agenda may be allocated x minutes or so to allow for adequate coverage of each menu on the agenda.

Active participation
By dint of being a participant in a group brainstorming session, the assumption is that every participant needs to contribute. That said, personalities differ with some people being laidback while others are assertive or domineering. This calls for moderation by one of the members to ensure that everyone participates in the brainstorming. This means encouraging everyone to participate by setting a conducive environment; say, by calling on everyone to voice their thoughts and opinions on the different menus on the agenda. In this, the moderator should be guided by the dictum that, unlike in a school setting, there is no such thing as a wrong answer.

Adequate preparation
Preparing adequately for the brainstorming session enhances its productivity. Such preparation might include reading material on the brief to be brainstormed and so on. As such participants have adequate time to ruminate and research on the brief.

Individual brainstorming
Brainstorming at the individual level too calls for deliberate action to enhance productivity and effective utilisation of the available time. Further, it can anchor group discussion in that the individual to participate in a group brainstorming session has already drafted ideas and possible solutions for the brief to be discussed at the group session.

State of mind
Individual brainstorming calls for a cool, calm, collected and calculating mind to generate ideas. To ensure this, the individual should strive to concentrate on the issue at hand by minimising possible distractions such as social media, noise and so on. A tranquil space for such focused thinking might be the local library, the boardroom, study, or a corner of the room used as a working space.

Resources needed for individual brainstorming include time, stationery, a computer and so on. Start and end time for the brainstorming forces the individual to concentrate on the task at hand and not zone out, so to speak. Stationery and a computer (or smartphone or tablet) are for sketching out ideas or possible solutions to a problem. In the case of our individual writing an article, this may involve generating possible topics, theses, flow and coherence from one point to the next, persuasive techniques, research notes and so on.