New scientific research being conducted at the University of Texas at Arlington's Group Creativity Lab has found out what makes brainstorming effective. Some of the results are surprising.
Group brainstorming, used commonly by businesses, is not very effective. In one study, groups with four members generated about half as many ideas as four individuals brainstorming alone. The simple act of being in a group creates a set of distractions - the members have to fight a tendency to conform to what others are saying, anxieties about pleasing the boss, and their own social inhibitions. Groups also harbor illusions about their own effectiveness.
While group brainstorming is an important exercise in team-building, it should be alternated with individual brainstorming. Even better is "brainwriting," in which participants write down their ideas on a piece of paper or electronically. One member of the group writes an idea, another reads it, adds feedback and his or her own ideas, and so on. This overcomes a lot of the problems of the group. And brainwriting generates 40% more ideas than individuals brainstorming alone.
The most important element of brainstorming is how you define the problem. It should be focused, but not so narrow that it discourages creativity. It is essential that the goal be quantity, not quality. Don't evaluate the ideas as they come, save that for later. But don't forget to evaluate and implement them. Digital River's brainstorming sessions conclude with someone being made accountable to pursue an idea, allocating resources, and regular progress reports.