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Creative Group Discussion: Brainstorming Techniques

A group of people has organized to find creative solutions to the pressing problems of their organization. Everyone knows that these are the top 'brains' in their departments, and everyone has heard them come up with brilliant ideas around the coffee machine and in the lunch room. Yet there they sit, unable to think of a single thing, no one volunteering, no one even pretending enthusiasm about the challenge ahead.

This is all too often the response to a 'brainstorming' session. Calling the best and the brightest together very rarely supplies the answers to managerial or training needs. This is too bad, because brainstorming at its best can achieve incredible results by training people to think creatively, to define and solve real problems, and to identify alternative courses of action.

The brainstorming session usually fails to get off the ground right at the planning stage. It isn't enough to sit down, draw up an agenda, and figure out who to invite. Certain techniques must be followed if you want to obtain the best results in the time available.

Establishing the environment for a brainstorming session is often the most difficult part of the preparatory activities. Finding a balance between a casual setting and one geared toward output is a matter of great delicacy. It is often helpful to think about the physical aspects of the situation first.

Getting Started: Participants need to be seated informally, and the group limited to less than 30. (The optimum size is 7 to 15). Some way of recording the forthcoming ideas, such as a tape recorder, stenographer, or, ideally, a flip chart must be provided; the use of more formal devices may tend to alienate your group and hamper individual creativity. The physical surroundings must be geared toward reducing tension, and any reminders of the pressure to perform will surely destroy the nonjudgmental atmosphere you are attempting to create.

The following ground rules for the brainstorming session itself must be followed to encourage the most thought in the short and intense amount of time allotted for these sessions.

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