A brainstorm can involve any number of participants greater than one. Many advertising agencies, for example, like staff to brainstorm in “creative pairs”.
The optimum number of participants, however, is probably between six and 12. Less than six and the participants can be overly polite and restrained, waiting for each other to have their say. More than 12 and things can become unwieldy. With any number larger than four, the facilitator can ask participants to divide into smaller, “break-out groups” for specific periods or tasks before coming back to share the fruit of their thinking with the larger group.
Whatever the size, there is an argument for trying to involve participants from a variety of different ages, sexes, jobs and backgrounds, in the hope that each will then be able to contribute different perspectives and ideas.
A Leader Or Facilitator
…In other words, someone to lead or conduct the brainstorm. A brainstorm, after all, is often only as good as the person facilitating it, which, indeed, is why Think Inc gets asked to provide experienced facilitators.
According to some schools of thinking, you need not one but two people to lead a brainstorm. The two in question can be either:
A “cheerleader”, who does the talking, and a “data-capturer”, who writes things down; or,
A “problem-owner”, who controls the agenda and content, while also contributing ideas, and a “facilitator”, who controls the people and time but does not chip in ideas.
A Time-Limit And Timetable
A good brainstorm, reckon some experts, should not take longer than half-an-hour. Others swear by half-day or all-day brainstorms, which, if well structured and run, can be highly productive. The truth is that a brainstorm can be almost any length, provided it is properly structured and tackling the right problem.
A Clear Statement Of The Problem At Hand
…Or even three or four alternative statements of it, so that if ideas dry up in response to one statement, participants can move on to tackle another.
A Way To Capture The Ideas
The most common way of capturing ideas is by writing them on a flip-chart and then, when a sheet is finished, tearing it off and sticking it on the wall, where it can be seen by participants.
Indeed, if possible, try, at the end of the meeting, to leave the ideas up somewhere where you and participants can see them and so let them incubate, before coming back to review them.
In fact, our own experience at Think Inc, which is backed up by American research, is that the best ideas result when brainstorming is combined with periods of solitary thinking. Brainstorming, under this approach, can serve best as a sort of mental warm-up or calisthenics for the solitary thinking which takes place later.