What are the most common brainstorming techniques used by companies? How often are they used and why? Are they successful?

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What are the most common brainstorming techniques used by companies? How often are they used and why? Are they successful?

Hello! Thanks for asking Wonder about corporate brainstorming techniques, including how often and why they are used and whether or not they are successful. The most useful sources I found to respond to your query were Inc, Evernote, and Fast Company. In short, there are many brainstorming techniques used by companies and teams. Some of the most common brainstorming techniques include questions, brainwriting, role playing, mobile brainstorming, brain-netting, round robin, and mind mapping. Google has developed its own brainstorming process, based on three principles, while Curricula has embraced brainwriting. Marketing think tank GumboLive uses game processes when brainstorming. Below, please find the results of my research.
The internet is chock full of advice on the best brainstorming techniques for companies and teams. It's also home to the occasional naysayers expounding the detriments of such techniques. However, even those folks offer solutions that others would call brainstorming, such as brainwriting (more on that later). Among those who tout the benefits, there are some common refrains for how to generate the best and most productive ideas when your team gathers around the conference table to invent the next great widget or dream up the next bit innovation.

Traditional brainstorming is typically thought of as a group of people sitting around a table lobbing ideas at one another. Companies brainstorm for many reasons. Primarily, companies brainstorm to solve problems, and they have a need for varying viewpoints. Team building is another reason companies brainstorm. It creates ownership and encourages collaboration. Advertising executive Alex Osborn is considered the father of the brainstorming technique, which he originally presented in his book, "How to Think Up." His methods involved principles such as deferring judgement and generating lots of ideas, as well as using a facilitator and pairing group brainstorming with individual sessions. While Osborn's techniques are still widely used, many other innovative techniques either build on his ideas or have been prompted by some of their shortcomings.

Below, I have compiled several of the most common techniques that came up in my research, along with a few examples from specific companies. Many of the articles from which these techniques were gathered have even more ideas to explore, but I have pulled out several that showed up most often. I did not find any specific information on how often companies use brainstorming, and I believe that is because companies in different industries would have very unique needs related to brainstorming. A creative or innovation-focused company will have more brainstorming sessions than an accounting firm, for instance.

1. Questions
Several articles promote the benefits of brainstorming questions, rather than ideas. An article at FastCo Design suggests that generating questions around a problems or issue that needs a solution. Benefits of this techniques include reducing the stress or pressure of coming up with creative solutions by asking team members to come up with questions that help the team delve deeper in to the problem, which can often yield great ideas. Matthew E. May, author of "Winning the Brain Game" calls this technique "frame-storming."

Companies such as MIT and Microsoft are using question techniques with success. The MIT Leadership Center uses "question-storming" with its corporate clients. Kaiser Permanente and Microsoft both use the “Question Formulation Technique,” or QFT, developed by the Right Question Institute. The QFT methods uses five steps:
1. "Question-Focus": This is a statement about which the team will generate questions.
2. Generate questions: In small groups, team members spend about 10 minutes coming up with questions that one member writes down, unedited and undebated. MIT's question-storming method pushes this step further, with director Hal Gregersen saying the best questions come when you get past 50 or 75 questions.
3. Improve on the questions: At this stage, the questions are refined, expanded, or tightened.
4. Prioritize the questions: Each group chooses its favorite few questions to share with the larger group. Then, the overall top questions are selected, based on their ability to stir interest or prompt new thought processes.
5. Determine next steps: Questions are actionable and call for an answer, which can drive the next step. Kristi Schaffner of Microsoft says that she usually ends these sessions by creating an action plan based on the top three identified questions.

Another question-oriented technique is called starbursting. It begins with the issue to be discussed at the center of the star with the six points of the star labeled with the questions, "who, what, where, why, when, and how." Using those starter questions, the team generates questions to go deeper into the issue. Questions such as, "Who is the target market?" or "How will we research this?" may be generated. The starbursting technique is great for exploring a new product or service and identifying the framework for a solution, but the starbursting needs to be followed by planning sessions that will flesh out the timeline, management, and specific goals. This article provides a downloadable starbursting worksheet

2. Brainwriting
An article at Interaction Design Foundation suggests using brainstorming in collaboration with braindumping, brainwriting, and brainwalking. Brainwriting is a technique touted in several articles I read. The goal of brainwriting is basically to make sure everyone in the group gets the opportunity to share their problem-solving ideas without getting talked over by other team members. Each member of the group writes down their thoughts, and those thoughts are passed around so that each person reads the ideas generated by others. This technique can be a game-changer for introverts, whose great ideas can be overshadowed by more domineering extroverts. Brainwriting allows for ideas to be shared without criticism, leveling the playing field and eliminating some group brainstorming obstacles.

3. Role or Figure Storming
Figure storming involves putting yourself in someone else's shoes when trying to find a solution to a problem. Looking at an issue from the point of view of a celebrity or co-worker may yield unexpected ideas. Rolestorming is a similar concept, involving each team member donning a role, such as the optimist, the competitor, the client, or the critic. Again, volleying ideas back and forth from the perspectives of these characters can create an a-ha moment.

4. Mobile brainstorming
Getting off-site can be a great way to clear the mind and generate new ideas. A different location, such as a museum conference space or even a car ride, can relax the mind and the atmosphere, allowing a freer flow of ideas.

5. Brain-netting (or online brainstorming)
With many co-workers in today's business world working from remote locations, online brainstorming has become a necessity. Services such as Slack and Google Docs can be used to facilitate these sessions. Brain-netting involves generating ideas via the internet using a variety of tools and techniques. Group calls, chat apps, and video conferencing are some of the primary tools. Barriers include varying time zones and technological proficiencies, as well as compatibility issues with computer systems. Asynchronous collaboration is often a necessity in these situations, with some people sleeping while others are working. While there are limitations, some of the positive side effects are that team members can take more time reflecting before responding to others' ideas, rather than shooting off a quick response with no through behind it.

6. Round Robin
The round robin technique is designed to ensure everyone has a voice. Everyone has to share an idea and everyone must wait until everyone has shared one idea before they share another. Typically, everyone stands in a circle with a moderator recording every idea.

7. Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is a visual and analytical way of tackling a goal or challenge. It can be done on paper or using a number of mind-mapping apps. You start by writing down the goal or challenge and asking participants to think about related issues or subtopics. Mind mapping is a classic brainstorming tool

I encountered a few case studies for companies using specific brainstorming techniques with success. I've outlined three such cases below.
Case Study 1: Google and Prototypes
Google is known for innovation, but those innovations don't come out of nowhere. While freestyle brainstorming often generates ideas, the company has created a systematic approach to idea generation that encompasses three principles to create a linear process. This YouTube video allows viewers into the Google Innovation Lab, which walks through the process outlined below.

1. "Know the user" - Google begins by getting out in the field and talking with people, learning from their stories, ideas, and emotions. With a very broad user base, the company has learned that their assumptions about the needs of its customers can vary widely by demographic and geography. So they start by asking for the opinions and input of those their ultimate solutions will affect.

2. "Think 10X" - This concept involves improving things by 10 times. At this stage, all team members write down ideas on their own then come together as a group to determine which ones to pursue. But there are rules to follow to make sure the outcomes lead to 10X thinking.
• Build on the ideas of others. Don't kill any idea in the early stages.
• Generate a lot of ideas. Quantity over quality is important at this stage.
• Write headlines. Describe the idea in fewer than six words. It will help to clarify the idea.
• Illustrate. Use pictures. They are more difficult to misinterpret.
• Think big. Be bold and intrepid with your ideas. Google's head of innovation, Frederick Pferdt, says, "Just beyond crazy is fabulous!"
• Defer judgement. Let the ideas grow. You can finesse them later.

3. Prototype - Don't postpone taking action. Google builds a quick prototype of the idea they've generated right away. Holding your idea in your hand allows you to begin testing and learning from it.

Case Study 2: GumboLive and Collaborative Games
GumboLive is a New Orleans-based innovation and marketing think tank. GumboLive uses collaborative game processes for brainstorming. An article by a former employee of GumboLive states, "Game processes can bring the power of design thinking to any company, in any industry." The company tried many brainstorming techniques and finally discovered that games produced the best results. They also experimented with a variety of game processes, ultimately developing games and rituals with helped the company sustain energy during a day of collaboration. Games includes improv, writing, imagination, board games, and even drinking games. The company not only uses game brainstorming in-house; they also use it with their clients, who reap equal benefits.

Some of the benefits of using games are
• inclusion - everyone to participates and has a voice.
• efficiency - games have a set time frame, a beginning and an ending, which keeps the process on track.
• common materials - office games use resources available at every office, such as conference rooms and whiteboards.

This article offers a Facilitation Guide for Empathy Mapping, a collaborative game process. It also offers links to other resources, such as the LEGO Serious Play game method and the Gamestorming website, among others.

Case Study 3: Curricula and Brainwriting
Curricula is a content management company that has incorporated brainwriting as its brainstorming technique of choice. The company was wary of brainstorming, in general, so they decided to try brainwriting. They embarked on generating some new stories for upcoming episodes. They began by using their usual discussion process, but then they broke away from that and had each person spend 15 minutes writing down story ideas. Then, each person presented their idea. Then, they stopped, and regrouped the next day, which is when their best ideas were generated. The time alone allowed each person to ponder the issue from different angles and come back refreshed. The brainwriting process allowed for higher quality ideas to be shared with the group, and it open up the discussion. The process resulted in double the number of complete episodes. SUMMARY To sum up, some common brainstorming techniques include questions, brainwriting, role playing, mobile brainstorming, brain-netting, round robin, and mind mapping. Thanks for using Wonder for your research needs! Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.

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