Creativity and Brainstorming


Creativity is concerned not only with new ideas, but also with escaping old ones.  Many old ideas survive through habit or routine, and not – as they should – as a result of a continuous re-assessment of their value and validity.

Our usual method of thinking is referred to as VERTICAL THINKING, in which we proceed directly from one piece of information to the next.   Each step has to be ‘right’ before we proceed to the next.


We regard this as ‘logical’.

Our whole system of education is soundly based upon getting things ‘right’, and this need to be right all the time is a great barrier to new ideas.

The human mind is effective because it organises data into patterns, but creativity involves breaking out of set patterns, to look at data in new ways.

To make the most effective use of information, the traditionally accepted ‘patterning system’ of the mind needs the introduction of discontinuity.

LATERAL THINKING provides the means to achieve this.


Lateral Thinking

Lateral Thinking does not have to be ‘right’ at each step – only at the end.

Intermediate steps in the thought process can be ‘unproven’ or ‘impossible’.  They generate still more ideas as stepping-stones to the ultimate result.

Lateral thinking involves:

  • the deliberate search for alternative ways of doing or looking at things;
  • movement for the sake of it – to generate direction rather than follow it;
  • questioning – a refusal to accept assumptions or take things for granted;
  • being aware of the arrogance of believing an accepted idea to be fact;
  • refusal to accept adequate ideas which block development of better ones;
  • looking at an idea to see where it leads – rather than if it is correct;
  • separation of the generation of ideas from their judgement or evaluation.


Brainstorming Sessions

Although lateral thinking may be carried out by an individual, it is often more effective in a group at a Brainstorming Session.

Here one person’s ideas – however wild – can spark off different ideas in another.  One individual may come to a dead end with an idea, which one of his colleagues may pick up and develop with great imagination.

Planning A Brainstorming Session

  1. The first stage is to define the topic or problem SIMPLY and CLEARLY.

    For a sales team, it could be:

    • HOW CAN WE SELL MORE? With sub-topics of:
      • ‘What can WE do to help the company to sell more?’
        ‘What can the COMPANY do to help us to sell more?’
        ‘What can we all do TOGETHER to increase sales?’
  2. The minimum number is five or six people; the maximum twelve.

    Ideally, up to half should not be directly concerned with the topic, and may be, for example, from other departments of the company. Senior people should generally be excluded, as they may inhibit the flow of ‘wild’ ideas.

  3. Although it has an informal purpose, it is best to hold a formal meeting.

    It will be easier to keep control, and it should help free everyone to relax and to think in a different way: to come up with new ideas without expecting them to be shouted down, or judged as stupid or unrealistic.

  4. For groups unfamiliar with the technique, try a 10 minute warm-up session on a simple and concrete problem; eg ‘how to design a better toothbrush’.
  5. Plan for a duration of up to 30 minutes, but be prepared to end earlier if ideas dry up, and the session appears to have lost its drive.
  6. Taking notes of the session is difficult, but vital. (Minutes of most business meetings record only major decisions reached, but at this session, no decisions will be made; that comes afterwards).

    All ideas must be recorded, and ideally all remain visible throughout.

    Thus a single flip chart stand will not be enough, since each page would then be ‘turned over’ as soon as it was filled.  It would be better if individual flip chart sheets could be fixed to the wall in advance.

The purpose of a Brainstorming Session is to generate new ideas, not to evaluate them, which comes later.  Evaluation of any sort must be forbidden.

The word ‘no’ suggests the whole concept of rejection of an idea as ‘wrong’.  The word ‘no’ and any other negative must be banned from the meeting.


The Task Of The Chair

The session must have a Chairperson, who will:

  • explain the purpose of a Brainstorming session
  • appoint two ‘note takers’ – and remember to change them at half time
  • ensure that everyone is ready to begin – including the note takers
  • define the topic at the start, and repeat it at intervals throughout
  • act as a lubricant to keep the session running smoothly
  • stop everyone talking at once, and encourage the quieter members to talk
  • stop people trying to evaluate ideas; ban any negative comments such as:
    • ‘I don’t think much of that’, ‘That would cost too much’, ‘That’s not new’,  ‘That’s not practical’,  ‘That’s a ridiculous idea’, ‘ That would never work’.  ‘No, we tried that in 1982, and it failed then’, and so on …………
  • make sure that the ideas are being recorded – perhaps suggesting a pause
  • ensure that the notes suitably condense ideas into simple ‘headings’ so that the meaning/worth of an idea is not lost by shortening in this way
  • if the ideas come to a halt:

be ready with suggestions of his/her own, or

summarise some points so far made (without  evaluating them), or

ask the note taker(s) to read out the ideas so far listed

  • stop the session after 30 minutes, or sooner if the ideas dry up.

Following the session, the Chairperson, together with the note takers, should collect all the notes and co-ordinate the ideas, grading them as:

  • Ideas for immediate use
  • Ideas for further exploration, and
  • Those which were only ‘stepping stones’ to other more valid ideas.

It can sometimes be of value to send a copy of the co-ordinated notes to the members with space to add further ideas which may have occurred to them since.

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