Brainstorming and critical thinking have the same goals—problem solving. Critical thinking is how we arrive at informed judgements or decisions through a sequenced and disciplined process. Brainstorming, on the other hand, is more spontaneous. Brainstorming relies on group participation (or single contemplation) in a relaxed, non-threatening environment.
What is the brainstorming method?
Brainstorming is a form of creative thinking that involves what is known as lateral thinking. Lateral thinking also involves a systematic process leading to logical conclusions. However, lateral thinking changes the playing field by arriving at the desired goal through completely different angles.
Brainstorming is a more relaxed and informal approach to solving problems. Anyone who has been to a successful brainstorming session has been encouraged to toss in thoughts and ideas that at first might sound a bit crazy or impractical. By virtue of their uniqueness, those ideas usually morph into imaginative ideas.
Brainstorming critical thinking can be a silver bullet against conventional group decision making. Anyone who has been around a conference table occupied by powerful, opinionated people who want to impress a strong leader knows how groupthink can suppress input and stifle good decision making.
When used in non-threatening, relaxed situations, brainstorming can promote openness, camaraderie and buy-in as solid group-based solutions emerge. The old saying that “those who plan the battle don’t battle the plan” applies.
- The Ultimate Guide To Critical Thinking
- Is Critical Thinking A Soft Skill Or Hard Skill?
- 5 Creative and Critical Thinking Examples In Workplace
- 10 Best Books On Critical Thinking And Problem Solving
- 12 Common Barriers To Critical Thinking (And How To Overcome Them)
How is brainstorming used in critical thinking?
Going full circle, critical thinking can clean up the process by vetting the ideas and possibilities arrived at through brainstorming and testing their practicality.
Individual brainstorming critical thinking vs. group brainstorming
Individual brainstorming frees everyone from the worry about egos and the opinions of others. This single approach works well when solving simple problems, generating a list of ideas, or focusing on a broad issue.
For individual brainstorming, you need a comfortable place with minimal distractions and to just to sit and think. There are some very good mind mapping software products that can help you arrange and develop your ideas without the restrictions of formal outlining.
On the other hand, group brainstorming opens access to the broader experience and creativity of team members. Again, in group brainstorming, everyone feels that they have contributed, and knows that others have creative ideas to offer.
This post describes:
1. the steps for setting up and conducting a brainstorming session; and
2. brainstorming techniques you can start using right away
3. ways to get the most out of brainstorming sessions
Brainstorming critical thinking steps
MindTools recommends the following steps in setting up group brainstorming critical thinking sessions:
1. Prepare the participants.
Preparation is important. Find a comfortable meeting place and gather up the tools—pens, post-it notes, and a means for recording the session. Appoint someone to record the ideas and display everything—the notes, etc., where everyone can view them.
If needed, start with an icebreaker to make the participants comfortable. You could, for example, ask each participant to tell the group something about themselves that is not widely known.
2. Define the problem you want to solve or the goal you want to reach in the brainstorming critical thinking session.
Take time to think through and clearly write out the goals of your brainstorming session. Include any criteria that must be met and make sure everyone knows that your objective is to come up with as many ideas as possible.
Keep your objective statement posted prominently throughout the session. Then begin the session with some quiet time to allow everyone to share their ideas, with a fair opportunity to contribute.
3. Be a proactive facilitator and keep the discussion going.
When the ideas are ready, begin with a group discussion that builds on those ideas. Encourage even the quietest people to contribute, and don’t be afraid to throw your own ideas into the mix.
Keep the group on track, and when the session gets off point, refocus the group. However, don’t follow one idea too long, and make sure there is a sufficient variety of ideas to generate solutions in detail. If someone in the group asks to explore an idea alone, allow them the freedom to work on their own and report back to the group.
4. Watch for brainstorming “saboteurs”
A brainstorming session can go off the rails and demotivate the group. Many factors can result in unproductive, repetitive, or negative effects; for example:
- Extroverts and quick thinkers can monopolize the conversation: This leaves no time for other teammates to contribute.
- The group settles and focuses only on the first few ideas brought up in the session: This “anchors” the group and stifles new ideas, which prevents the team from moving on.
- Unprepared participants, followed by awkward silence: This could cut the meeting short simply to put the group out of their misery.
- Disconnected remote workers: When trying to brainstorm online through a video conference, the tendency is for people to talk over one another. Plus, it is difficult to capture creative energy when people are face to face in the same location.
Popular brainstorming critical thinking techniques to prevent group brainstorming sabotage
Jenna Wilson, writing for WeWork.com, describes 10 effective team brainstorming techniques and strategies. Brainstorming, she writes, “have three steps: idea capture, discussion and critique, and selection.” She recommends the following strategies:
Brainwriting, a nonverbal brainstorming method, where everyone jots down three ideas that relate to the topic under discussion. After about four to six minutes, everyone passes their ideas to another person, who builds on the ideas by adding bullet points or creative statements. When the ideas have been passed around full circle, the group can decide which are the best to pursue.
Brainwriting overcomes the pitfalls of extroverts and quick thinkers monopolizing the conversation, as well as the above-mentioned anchoring effect. Likewise, everyone has the opportunity to contribute, allowing for progress beyond the first ideas discussed in the session.
Rapid ideation, where individuals quickly write out as many ideas and solutions as possible in a strictly enforced amount of time, prior to their discussion, critique, and fleshing out.
Rapid ideation helps avoid the tendency of shooting down an idea before it has time to grow and develop. It allows everyone to contribute before the discussion begins. Enforcing a time limit also prevents hesitancy in presenting ideas before sharing them with the group.
Figure storming, where the group chooses an absent well-known figure and discusses how that person would approach the problem or think about an idea.
This also draws hesitant teammates out by allowing them to attach someone else’s name to an idea the teammate favors.
Round-robin brainstorming, where every member of the group must contribute at least once before anyone else can contribute a second time. If the person cannot contribute on their first turn, come back at the end after they have had more time to think.
Similar to rapid ideation, round-robin brainstorming requires everyone to participate. In your meeting announcement, make sure the team knows what will be required and is prepared to contribute.
Group mind mapping, where the group begins with one idea and then draws lines connecting sub-ideas to the first one. This is a great approach for visual thinkers. Sometimes an idea is so “out there” that it can be mapped as a “floater” on the mind map chart and inspire even more lineal connections.
The step-ladder technique, which is rather complex, but ensures that the group is not heavily influenced by the first few ideas or the most vocal advocates. This brainstorming technique begins when two team members confer in private for a few minutes, whereupon a third person joins the session with some of their ideas—before discussing what the first two discussed.
Then individuals of the group return to the room one by one and share their ideas before knowing what ideas are already under consideration. Meanwhile, outside the room, before joining the session, other teammates can brainstorm together or write down their own ideas, but not discuss those ideas with anyone until they join the group.
Additional brainstorming techniques include:
- Visualization-based: to boost artistic thinking
- Starbursting: A “who, what, when, where, why, and how” approach that focuses on questions rather than answers and encourages examination of an idea from every angle
- Changing the scenery: changing the location of the brainstorming session to brush away the cobwebs of familiarity and promote fresh thinking and new ideas
Finally, Jena Wilson suggests the following to get the most out of a brainstorming session:
1. Allow people to prepare. Give them a clear idea of the problem at least 24 hours prior to the session and ask them to come prepared with ideas.
2. Communicate your desired outcome. A statement of “why we are coming together” should be up front in your meeting announcement.
3. Include new people, especially those in the organization that will be affected by the outcome of the session.
4. Make it clear that there are “no bad ideas.”
5. Follow up with a plan and announcement of how the organization will bring the new ideas to reality.
- How To Promote Critical Thinking In The Workplace
- Critical Thinking vs Problem Solving: What’s the Difference?
- What Is The Role Of Communication In Critical Thinking?
- How To Improve Critical Thinking Skills At Work And Make Better Decisions
- 11 Principles Of Critical Thinking
- 7 Questions To Ask Executives At Town Hall Meetings