Augment Your Brainstorming. Go From Thinking to Doing.

April 19, 2011
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Augmented Brainstorming

“Become more conscious of the creative power within your reach

Alex Osborn 
Creator of Modern Brainstorming Techniques

Brainstorming was popularized in 1939 by Alex Osborn. He was a partner in an ad agency looking to expand the boundaries of projects and create a better context for idea generation. Osborn developed several rules for a good brainstorming session: encourage large quantities of ideas, include the outlandish unusual ideas, minimize judgment, and build on each idea.

In 1939 brainstorming methodology was solid but technology was still disconnected. Alex Osborn could have his secretary type up the groups’ ideas (as most real managers in 1939 didn’t type) and hand them out on a piece of paper to everyone.

Indeed, we’ve come a long way in terms of knowledge dissemination since 1939 but we’ve also come a long way from our whiteboards and napkins too.

Though not explicitly referred in Osborn’s key rules for brainstorming, implicit even in 1939 was that highly visual capture of thinking can lend itself to even better ideas. Sight and knowledge have a tight relationship. When people brainstorm they put up a bunch of words on a whiteboard not only so they can capture ideas but because “seeing is believing”. It’s part of our reflection process.

Alex Osborn

Visualization software and mind maps can take your brainstorming session to the next level.  We covered some interesting examples of this in last week’s Webinar “From Brainstorming to Results. See the Possibilities”. Here’s how to take your ideas from the whiteboard to execution and augment your next brainstorming session.


Get It Out of Your Head 
Get your ideas out of your head and into a tangible form. This will enable you to see and reflect on these ideas.  Starting with a new Brain can help you focus on the problem or concept at hand. Your first Thought should be your goal or problem. Then create Thoughts below for all possibilities. In the spirit of Alex Osborn, the more Thoughts you have for this purpose, the better. You can also drag and drop links to key references and inspirations in your Brain to help trigger new ideas. Continue to build on Thoughts already created. There’s no limit to the number of Thoughts or where your ideas can go with PersonalBrain. 

For more information on this process see: “Visualizing Decisions and No Limits Brainstorming”.


Collective Brainstorming With Your Team

Applied ImaginationIn addition to individual brainstorming and strategizing, creating a Brain in real-time as a group can lead to very powerful results. To brainstorm as a group you can use a single Brain projected, where one person is the moderator and captures the groups’ ideas. You can also synchronize your idea generation with TeamBrain services across individual PersonalBrains

Creating a TeamBrain can be a catalyst for new ideas, as well as reinvigorate staff suffering from burnout and performance plateaus. When you are brainstorming as a group, remember to follow our friend Alex Osborn’s rules.  Withhold judgment during your session so each team member feels free to let their creative contributions flow. Make sure everyone in the group understands the ground rules so that less gregarious members have a chance to contribute. You might even go as far as to draw out quieter or more junior team members. By leveling the playing field managers can gain valuable insights from employees that might otherwise feel inhibited to contribute.


Transition from Brainstorming to Action
Once you have mapped out a wide range of possibilities it’s time to reflect and commit. Osborn recommends setting up your brainstorming conference in two parts: the first for idea generation, the second session to decide on the best ideas.

“Optimum opportunity for creative thinking and for judicial thinking is to divide a conference into two sessions” (Osborn)

This is your assessment phase.  You need to determine which idea is feasible and then commit to it. In order to determine feasibility you might need to do further research. Under each Thought add child Thoughts on key next steps, supporting files and web research.

During this phase I like to use Thought Types and Tags to visually weigh and prioritize each Thought/idea. Thought Types should be used to assign a primary attribute to a Thought where tags can be used to add additional criteria or attributes to a Thought.

Ideas for Mark Expansion

Tagging Thoughts as a follow up to your brainstorming session helps clarify the practicalities of your ideas.

In the above screenshot once all ideas for the company’s “Market Expansion” were captured, Thought Types are used to signify a primary attribute of an idea. In this case, something that is a “Greenlighted project” or a “Hot topic” has generated much debate is identified with a Thought Type.

Often the ideas generated aren’t necessarily a clear “yeah or nay” so you can create tags that will highlight the feasibility of each idea. In the example above there are Thought Tags for “Cost” and “Timeframe” because these are key factors for executing these ideas.

By categorizing and further classifying ideas, unconscious reasons why something is a good or bad idea become more concrete, and an objective criterion for making decisions can be readily identified and implemented.

For more information on “Getting Things Done” and prioritization see my previous blog post.


Provide Access to Your Thinking
After your brainstorming session or once you have chosen your direction, share your Brain with your Team. You will need to decide if you prefer to control the content and publish in read-only mode or enable people to contribute to grow and build on the Brain’s existing structure. You can publish your Brain on your company web site or provide collaborative access through WebBrain.


A Knowledgebase That Goes from Seeing to Doing
Now that you have chosen a course of action, your thinking process is captured and you can always go back and reflect on it as a group or individual. Moreover, your Brain now becomes an ongoing repository and knowledgebase for your project. You can: drag and drop all relevant documents, visualize project phases, setup up reminders, link people to their responsibilities, continue to share and grow more ideas.

This process provides seamless management from initial idea creation to project completion. By starting with your brainstorming Thoughts then using and growing that same Brain for execution, you gain an ongoing conceptual framework from start to finish. This continuity of process makes transitioning from thinking to doing easy. By visualizing key objectives and milestones your team has a clear path of action and can always see the big picture. So instead of leaving your best ideas in your head or on the conference room whiteboard, capture your next brainstorming session in TheBrain. Then you’ll be able to watch things evolve from a few interesting ideas to an execution-oriented knowledgebase that leads to your project’s success.


Additional Resources

  1. Download Goal Directed Thinking BrainZip Template
  2. Watch Webinar: “From Brainstorming to Results. See the Possibilities

Related Posts

  1. Visualizing Decisions and No Limits Brainstorming
  2. Seven Steps to Making Your Creative Vision a Reality
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Filed under: Mind Mapping and Information Visualization, Self Discovery and Inspiration | Posted on April 19th, 2011 by Shelley Hayduk

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