"Imagination is more important than knowledge." A.Einstein.
|Brainwaves. (by Luc Viatour)|
Brainstorming is about churning out a large number of ideas for the solution of a problem, in the hope that at least one of them will eventually work. There are loads of tools, techniques, rules and recommendations on both group and individual idea generation, although the former proved to be less effective than individuals working independently due to factors such as distraction (especially in mixed company, I imagine), social loafing — people working in a group make less effort than when working alone, evaluation apprehension — fear of looking foolish or the others slating your ideas, production blocking — the smarty of the group inhibiting and blocking the rest, or simply because the heads you got together aren’t particularly good at throwing up intelligent ideas.
However, I believe that rules or guidelines are limiting factors and therefore contrary to the very essence of brainstorming. To my eyes, Brainstorming is all about letting your imagination flow unrestrained by filters such as knowledge, groupthink or political correctness — the kingdom of ideas and thoughts is probably the only realm where the individual can enjoy almost absolute freedom.
Group brainstorming can be as effective as individual one, if the assemblage is made up of homogeneously intelligent uninhibited endowed-with-sparkling-sense-of-humour, good at lateral thinking and deductive reasoning, and most importantly, capable-of-thinking-outside-the-box individuals who won’t get unfazed by criticism or even mockery. If you fail to team up with equal–to–the-task people, willing to pit their wits against each other in a healthy intellectual match, the activity will be a total waste of time.
Unless you are in a dreadful rush idea generation shouldn’t be confined to a single session, but span a chain of sessions that take a total amount of time needed to sort out the problem — it's more of a process than a session. Think about it as long as you please, switching off every now and then, if you get stuck (the brain will keep working on the question at subconscious level), to boost divergent thinking.
So forget the rules, methods, or easily-lulled-into-false-sense-of-complacency self-opinionated experts’ advice, give free rein to your imagination, get on your mettle and stretch your own thinking muscles.
"An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field." — Niels Bohr
To illustrate the potential of this powerful tool here go some real life examples of successful brainstorming.
A team of scientists were trying to create an effective anti-torpedo defence for submarines. After long and fruitless attempts to crack the task, as a last resort, they decided to call in a group of lay people for a brainstorming session to get some fresh ideas. And it worked! One of the lay participants (a taxi driver or similar) threw in a joke, 'Why don't you blow at the missile from a sub and thus stave it off?’, which (eureka!) led one of the scientists onto the idea of bounce-the-missiles-off-with-powerful-spurts-of-water contraption.
Another case took place in a small English town on the turn of the 20th century where a girl went down with a strange illness that, try as they might, doctors could not diagnose. Then, by a fluke, a neighbour suddenly remembered having read in one of Agatha Christie's stories a description of the similar symptoms caused by a rare substance poisoning. To the doctors' credit, they took notice of such a helpful tip and managed to apply the right treatment that saved the girl's life.
An example of the Ultimate Brainstorming would be a sci-fi story I read long time ago. A bunch of scientists were corralled in some sort of research centre and briefed about a luminary who had allegedly invented a device that apparently contradicted the known physical laws. However, he died in a tragic accident shortly afterwards without leaving any written description/scheme/drawings of his brainchild except for some apparently meaningless scraps and snatches.
So the boffins were tasked with reproducing the original invention and locked up in the labs for the purpose of nonstop brainstorming until they had succeeded. Finally, after a few weeks of frenetic brain racking they cracked the puzzle. Proud of their accomplishment, the bright guys presented a working model only to find out that the whole story about the genius and his invention was a hoax aimed at convincing them that contrary to the orthodox scientific beliefs such device was actually feasible, thus forcing them to shrug off the polarising lattice of their previous knowledge and preestablished patterns of thinking. Hence the quantum leap.
'Have the courage to use your own intelligence!' — Immanuel Kant.