Structured Brainstorming


Structured brainstorming refers to the process of systematic and liberal generation of a large volume of ideas from a number of participants by encouraging each of them to volunteer their creative inputs one at a time in an atmosphere that is free of criticism and judgment from other participants.  Unlike unstructured brainstorming wherein the participants can give ideas as these come to mind, structured brainstorming provides certain rules that participants must follow in order to make the gathering of inputs more orderly and evenly distributed.


Structured brainstorming is good for: 1) collecting ideas from all team members about a certain topic, issue, or problem in an organized manner; 2) encouraging team members to be more creative and be open to new or non-traditional ideas; 3) preventing dominant team members from controlling the output of the team's idea gathering efforts; 4) promoting synergy among team members by letting them build on each other's creative thinking; and 5) keeping the process of getting inputs from team members focused on the team's mission.


The 'structured' brainstorming process is ideal for use by teams that are new to brainstorming sessions, since unstructured brainstorming may be difficult to handle under certain situations.  Structured brainstorming basically consists of the following steps.


1)  State the central brainstorming theme in question form and write it down where every participant can see it, e.g., on a white board or flipchart.  Ensure that all the members have a full understanding the question, since they can not provide answers to it if they don't.  Try to optimize the manner in which the question is written by having a couple of members paraphrase it with the objective of improving it. 


2)  Let each team member have a turn to give his or her input as answer to the question.  Start with any team member and proceed to the next in seating arrangement, either in clockwise or counterclockwise direction.   If a team member can't think of any input when his or her turn comes, he or she simply needs to say 'Pass,' and the next member gets the turn. 


3) Write each input in large bold letters on the board or flipchart as it is given.  During these brainstorming rounds, nobody is allowed to criticize an input, no matter what.  The scribe simply writes down the input on the board or flipchart using exactly the same words used by the input giver.  This encourages the members to open up and keeps the input gathering in continuous fluid motion.


4) Repeat the brainstorming rounds until everybody says 'Pass' in the same round.  This indicates that the ideas of the team have already been exhausted.


5) The last step is where the team members are required to 'sanitize' the inputs. Review each of the listed inputs for further improvement in the way it is written and maximize its clarity.   Now is the time that other team members can ask the input giver what he or she actually means by his or her input.  Discard all inputs that are duplicates of another input.  Similar but different ideas must be preserved on the list though.


See Also:  Ishikawa Diagram Tree DiagramThe Pareto ChartNominal Group Technique




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