Advanced brainstorming technique for problem-solving, team-building and creative process
Table of contents
Brainstorming is a powerful technique for problem-solving, learning and development, planning and team building. Brainstorming creates new ideas, motivates and develops teams because it involves team members in bigger management issues, and it gets the brainstorming participants working together. Brainstorming is not a random activity; it follows a process. See the process for basic brainstorming. Below is an more innovative advanced method of brainstorming - called 'Silent Brainstorming' or 'Kaleidoscope Brainstorming' - developed by Dr KRS Murthy of Nisvara Inc, and the contribution of this model is gratefully acknowledged. Dr Murthy also refers to the brainstorming technique as 'Multiple Mind Conferencing'. Kaleidoscope Brainstorming, Dr Murthy suggests, not only produces vastly more ideas than conventional brainstorming, but also acts at a deep level to build teams and harmonious work groups.
As with the basic brainstorming process, the facilitator has a big responsibility to manage the activity, people's involvement and sensitivities, and then to manage the follow up actions. Use Brainstorming well and you will see excellent results in improving the organization, performance, and developing the team. It is useful to review the Johari Window concept and Johari model diagram along with this article, and when using the process. This is because much of the value of this concept lies in developing awareness of self, others, and what others think of oneself.
Have you attended any brain storming sessions in your life? The sessions are normally run by a facilitator, who introduces the purpose of the session to the participants, explains the ground rules and coordinates the process. A note taker or scribe may be used to document all the ideas generated in the session. Generally, the session is open to any ideas. Important guideline is that no idea is too simple, stupid or wild. See the basic brainstorming technique if you've not already done so - it contains fundamental brainstorming principles.
Kaleidoscope advanced brainstorming techniques are applicable to any subject or situation, and any type of forum where people can work as a group, including internet-based conferencing and communications.
This is a new approach to the brainstorming process, including different variations as to its use.
Dr Murthy regards 'Kaleidoscope Brainstorming' (KBS) or Multiple Mind Conferencing (MMC) as a "...Romantic interplay between silence and interaction.... a heavenly marriage of thesis and antithesis.."
The process makes efficient use of silence and communication, which are interleaved in the brainstorming session. The various degrees and modes of silence and communication effectively use as 'tools' in the Kaleidoscope brainstorming approach. Notably the power of silence is used to supplement the communications-oriented parts of the session.
The technique may seem 'anti-thematic' at the first glance. However, the intention is to make the brainstorming process more 'holistic', by exploiting the different modes and degrees of silence, absence of communication and a variety of communication and interaction.
1 - initial ideas generation brainstorming
The session should start with a facilitator detailing the process steps used for the particular session. The session is conducted in a normal fashion with the participants speaking out their ideas in a round robin or random fashion for an agreed period. The facilitator can use any normal brainstorming format for this session. It is a good idea to use a format that is comfortable for the facilitator and the participants. See the example of a standard brainstorming session if you've not done so already.
2 - silent brainstorming
The silent brainstorming session stage requires all team members or participants to stop talking, and to think of ideas, but not speak out. The facilitator can ring a bell or use another method to indicate the start and end of this part of the exercise. Ideas are to written down by each brainstorming participant. In addition, the participants must guess the ideas that others may be thinking and writing down. Ideally participants should guess the ideas of the other participants for each person, one after the other. For example, if the participants are A, B, C, D, E, F and G, then A would not only write his or her her ideas, but also afterwards guess what B, C, D, E, F, and G may have as their ideas. Participants should do this using deep thinking, and base their guesses on the manner that other participants answered during the first speaking part of the session. Participants should be encouraged to think how each of the other participants' minds are working - to empathise, to 'put themselves in the other person's shoes' - as a method of guessing as intuitively and accurately as possible. 'Think how the other person will be thinking' is the sort of guidance that the facilitator can give.
At this stage what's happening is that each participant is coming up with ideas from their own perspective of how each of the other participants is thinking. All participants work on this stage of the session at the same time. You can imagine the multiplicity of ideas and perspectives that this stage produces.
Each participant should logically end up with a list of ideas alongside, or below, the names of each participant, including themselves.
After a reasonable period, when it is clear that participants have completed their lists, the facilitator can ring the bell again, indicating the end of the silent brainstorming stage.
3 - presentation of brainstorming ideas
In this session, each of of the delegates reads out or shows their own ideas and also their best guesses of the ideas for others. The presentation made by A would look like the following:
- Ideas generated by A
- Guess of ideas of B
- Guess of ideas of C
- Guess of ideas of D
- Guess of ideas of E
- Guess of ideas of F
- Guess of ideas of G
During A's presentation, others simply listen. In turn each delegate gives a similar presentation. It is best if there is no discussion during the presentations. The facilitator should encourage delegates to make notes which people can raise later.
4 - discussion of brainstorming ideas
The presentations are followed by a detailed discussion session. In this session, the participants may discuss why and how they guessed about others. Each participant can also comment on the guesses of the other participants, and validate or clarify. The highlights and conclusions resulting from discussion should be noted by the facilitator or an appointed 'scribe'. The individual participants can be encouraged also make their own notes, which might for example contain their mental models and appropriate revisions of the creative thinking process of others. In this sense the activity helps open hidden areas of awareness (self and others), which in turn promotes better understanding, relationships, communications, team-building and co-operation. (See and refer to the Johari Window to help explain these benefits).
5 - further silent and speaking sessions - the kaleidoscope effect
Further sessions can repeat and extend the silent session so that participants increase the depth and complexity of their thinking still more. Specifically participants should now think about and guess how other delegates are thinking about the ideas of of others. This again is done silently, together. Each delegate will be thinking in deeper levels about each of the other participant's thinking. These complexities of thinking result, for example:
- A is thinking and noting down of any of his/her own new ideas
- A is also (as in stage 4) thinking afresh about and noting down any thoughts as to what B, C, D, E, F and G are thinking
- and, A is now additionally thinking of what B is thinking of A, C, D, E, F and G, plus what C is thinking of A, B, D, E, F and G, and so on.
Obviously the exercise at this stage has expanded massively. From a simple individual brainstorming activity involving say seven people and seven sets of personal ideas (seven perspectives), the session has expanded to entail seven people each considering six other people's thoughts about the ideas of six other people's ideas (that's 242 perspectives!). Clearly it is not reasonable to expect delegates to formulate 242 lists, so it is useful to place certain limits on people's activities, which can include for example:
- allowing delegates to leave blanks against certain delegates names
- limiting the number of ideas required to be guessed for each delegate
- stating a maximum number of perspectives
- allocating responsibility to each delegate to think about certain named delegates
- and in any event giving a time limit for each stage of the activity
As with any team building or team working activity, the facilitator needs to be able to assess progress and to adapt, adjust and give clarifying or steadying guidelines during the activity to maintain the group's focus and effectiveness.
At the fifth stage, all participants will in their own way be thinking in a highly complex fashion. The participants minds are acting as mirrors creating multiple reflections of each other, rather like the few small objects inside a kaleidoscope creating wonderful arrays and patterns. Hence the 'Kaleidoscope Brainstorming' description.
It is easy to imagine how using this process the number of ideas generated are many times more than when using normal brainstorming techniques.
Dr Murthy reports that typically after a number of Kaleidoscope Brainstorming sessions a group experiences an 'asymptotic approximation of their thinking process'. (Asymptotic refers to the 'asymptotic' effect whereby two or more things increasingly converge as if to become joined and together, but never actually join or become one). He says this is enabled by successive convergence and cross-fertilization among a group or team of each members thinking process, thoughts and ideas. He adds interestingly that groups ultimately do not need to be talking to each other for their minds to be conferencing with each other. In fact, they can be as far geographically apart as they need to be for their routine life, but still efficiently conferencing and in tune with each other.
Dr Murthy adds: "The most important aspect is the discipline developed by the silent brainstorming paradigm. Regular teams or 'virtual' teams can be brought together to practice this technique. It is a good idea for the team members to branch out and form new groups with new members to extend the practice. It is also a good idea to have new members or visitors to the Kaleidoscope Brainstorming team inducted routinely. Diversity of backgrounds is the key to freshness of ideas. True diversity in gender, age, ethnic background, educational levels, race, and personality types will ensure Brainstorming teams and activities are kept as fertile as possible. It is like any ecological system. Stability of a Kaleidoscope Brainstorming team ecology is good, but as well, aberrations and perturbations can guarantee long-term growth."
Dr KRS Murthy - biography
Dr KRS Murthy graduated from high school at the age of 12 and obtained two master degrees by the age of 20. Dr Murthy is an experienced corporate executive, entrepreneur, inventor, speaker, author, and a poet of some repute. He has given keynote speeches in numerous international technology, business and management conferences around the world. He has invented and developed a number of novel paradigms in various disciplines encompassing science, technology, business, marketing, corporate governance, music, poetry, other genres of literature, theatre, social science and even the sport of cricket. His poems are taught in universities and colleges in USA alongside legendry poets including Blake, Emerson, Milton, and Shakespeare. Dr Murthy is now president and chairman of Nisvara Inc., a Santa Clara, California-based leading computer technology development organization.
If you have questions about the Kaleidoscope Brainstorming technique Dr Murthy would welcome your enquiries to email@example.com, or by phone to his offices in the US: 408-464-3333.
For good order, here's a reminder of the basic brainstorming principles, which are always worth remembering so as to keep the more advanced Kaleidoscope Brainstorming activities from becoming too chaotic, and to retain a sense of purpose, and focus on outcomes and actions.
- Define and agree the objective.
- Brainstorm ideas and suggestions having agreed a time limit.
- Assess/analyse effects or results.
- Prioritise options/rank list as appropriate.
- Agree action and timescale.
- Control and monitor follow-up.
See the full brainstorming basic principles.
See also the guidelines for running workshops. Workshops provide good situations for brainstorming, and brainstorming helps to make workshops more productive, motivational and successful.
To create more structured brainstorming activities which illustrate or address particular themes, methods, media, etc., there is a helpful set of reference points on the team building games section.
Unless you have special reasons for omitting control factors, ensure you retain the the essence of the rules above, especially defining the task, stating clear timings, organising participants and materials, and managing the review and follow-up.
- BRAINSTORMING FOR TEAM BUILDING AND PROBLEM SOLVING
- EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
- JOHARI WINDOW MODEL AND FREE DIAGRAMS
- MEETINGS - HOW TO PLAN AND RUN MEETINGS
- TEAM BUILDING GAMES TRAINING IDEAS AND TIPS
- WORKSHOPS - FORMAT AND HOW TO RUN
- ROLE PLAYING AND ROLE PLAY GAMES PROCESS AND TIPS
- TUCKMAN'S FORMING STORMING NORMING PERFORMING MODEL
- GAMES, TRICKS, PUZZLES AND WARM UPS FOR GROUPS
- QUIZBALLS - 1000'S OF FREE QUIZ QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR LEARNING AND FUN
- GAMES AND EXERCISES FOR GROUPS AND TEAM BUILDING
'Kaleidoscope Brainstorming' is copyright Dr KRS Murthy.
© KRS Murthy concept and base content 1996; Alan Chapman review and edit 2004-2013