Brainstorming -


According to an articlein the Washington Post, Willard Boyle and George Smith feltpressured by their boss to come up with an important new invention. So,they scheduled a one-hour brainstorming session and came up with theCCD. I can imagine the meeting’s agenda:

– Conference room: 2
– Attendees: Smith and Boyle
– Goal: Convince corporate to keep funding us
– Time scheduled: 60 minutes.
– Result: Completely revolutionized imaging
– Likely outcomes: Elimination of multi-billion dollar chemical photography industry, and cameras will be everywhere – even in phones.

Smith and Boyle agreed that the phone comment was just a joke as noone can conceive of a need for such a device.

Linus Pauling said: “The best way to have a good idea is to havelots of ideas.” That’s the magic of brainstorming. A couple of smartpeople toss out dozens of ideas, showering the meeting with differentapproaches to solving a problem. One thought sparks another. Someinspirations follow linearly while others seem to come from nowhere,yet are usually catalyzed by other participants’ suggestions.

While informal brainstorming sessions are very effective and themost fun, some people prefer a more disciplined process, such as theone spelled out in Wikipediaand many other places. Regardless, the basic rules for any session mustinclude the following:

• All ideas are equally good. Criticism is not allowed.
• Stick to the subject
• Every participant and his or her notions are treated with respect
• Have fun! Be inventive and playful.

Brainstorming sessions work best with small groups. Sir BarnettCocks nailed the problem with big meetings back in 1907: “A committeeis a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.”Large groups resemble Usenet: lots of people lurk, contributingnothing. Like a long Usenet thread, any large group gathered for toolong degenerates into acrimony, though I’ve yet to see such a scenefall so apart that Godwin’s Law is invoked.

I’ve found brainstorming to be about the best idea generator around.Every one has created at least a handful of new ideas, though it’s notunusual to find that none have value. Yet even those seemingly failedmeetings tend to generate a seed of inspiration that eventually yieldsa truly worthwhile scheme.

I have learned, though, that when brainstorming with non-engineers(e.g., my wife) one must be clear that the ideas are just thoughtstossed out without much consideration. Very likely none of them haveany merit. Otherwise she’s likely to get emotional about a gliblyuttered idea that, after a microsecond of reflection, is one thatsolves the problem but will result in hurt feelings.

Last night we brainstormed a tax problem one of our college kids hasunknowingly created for himself. Like the best such sessions we came upwith an idea that fixes both that issue, and another unrelated one: hiscar that’s been sitting in our driveway unused for two years…

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. Join him for his “Better Firmware Faster”seminar in Dallas and Denver in April. Contact him at . His website is .

I disagree with the “keep to the subject” one. The best brainstorm meetings I've been in are those in which we solved a problem other than the one we officially gathered for.

– Andy Kunz

I feel a brainstorming session is more effective if all participate with the same zeal even if each one's ideas are totally different. I also wonder how much should be the “time to reflect” during the “shower of ideas”.

– Monali Bhalerao

The:”All ideas equally good. Criticism is not allowed”Is probably the most important rule to follow…However, it is very difficult to keep.

I have been guilty, many times, of violating the criticism sub-rule…only to come back later and apologize, and discuss why what I thought was irrelevant is now completely relevant and has true merit!

– Ken Wada

From : Corporate

Re : Brainstorming Best Practices

In order to expedite brainstorming, please follow these corporate best practices.

1. There must be a representative from Legal Affairs present at all sessions.

2. There must be a representative from Financial present at all sessions.

3. All sessions must be recorded, since they potentially represent the initial phase of patentable efforts. Video recordings are preferred, but audio recordings withclear identification of each speaker are acceptable.

4. All sessions must have minutes taken, with attribution to individual speakerswhere possible. Minutes will be marked Company Confidential and distributed only to Executive Management.

5. To ensure an orderly meeting, sessions will be moderated by a member of the Executive staff, typically someone from Research, since they are the principal source of “good ideas” within the company.

6. To ensure that each participant has an opportunity to speak, a round-robin process will be followed. Each speaker will have 90 seconds to present his or her best idea, followed by 3-1/2 minutes of focussed discussion. The next speaker will then present, continuing until the entire meeting has been heard. The moderator will then choose the best three ideas for further consideration.

7. A week prior to the brainstorming session, Executive Management will provide a list of topics about which to brainstorm, with suggested technical approaches, schedules, and budgetary constraints noted. Please brainstorm only about topics on the list.

8. While we would prefer to put no limits on the ideas generated during a brainstorming session, ideas which are too “out there” will be noted in the individual participant's Personnel file, and may be cause for follow-on counseling.

9. Since new ideas are vital to the company's future, a brainstorming session will be held in all departments once a week, outside of normal working hours. Employees will not be compensated for this time. At least five good ideas are expected from each group, each week, as judged by a committee formed from senior staff in Legal, Financial, Marketing, and Research.

10. If the entire company pulls together, puts on their “thinking caps”, and generates a large number of potentially profitable, market-viable product and service ideas, aligned with the company's core strategies, and requiring no new capital expenditures, we should be able to increase executive bonuses, and keep our Indian and Chinese manufacturing plants fully loaded. Layoffs will begin here in our US facilities next week.

– John Zugel

There are two other things

that I would add to the mix:

1. Assume infinite resources. Of course, that will never exist, but by making the assumption, you prevent excluding ideas that would work, but would be percieved as “too expensive”

but various alternatives exist.

For example, I was involved in one brainstorming sesion where we were trying to attach 2 cameras to a stick, at angles that would give us the data we needed. We assumed a “blob” that would attach a camera to the stick at the arbitrary angle. We ended up making the stick out of PVC plastic with a piece of PCB that was slightly bigger. A screw and duct tape served the purpose of attaching the camera to the stick at the desired angle.

The key here is: do not restrict your ideas based on perceived resource limits.

2. I read about an interesting way to generate ideas. This guy would keep a fishbowl on his desk. He would find some interesting concept or tech, and throw it into the fishbowl. When he wanted to generate a new idea, he would reach in for three random pieces of paper. He then tried to combine them into some coherent whole.

A survey of Nobel Prize winners showed that they thought about 10 percent of their ideas were any good. If I can have a 5 percent hit rate, I figure I am doing rather well.

– bandit

Brainstorming seems to be finding a resurgence in industry. The last time I saw it though was in a group far from Engineering… the Venturing program in Boy Scouts.

– Douglas Datwyler

TRIZ tools capture most problems and solutions. It can be applied to a variety of problems.

It may appear that you cannot get non-linear solutions and the range of solutions seems like Nostradmus prophesies.

Then again, you do not know what all problems have been solved already. If the database is wide enough TRIZ could be a good tool.

– Sameer Cholayil

The most interesting brainstorming occurs after work afer >= 3 good-sized glasses of scotch. Have analyzed and solved more problems that way than any other. Implementation, alas, has been lacking.

– Rick Schrenker

If brainstorming is to solve a stated problem, all participants should first try to generate these ideas ALONE before a brainstroming session.I think that if this process BEGINS in a group, a couple of seemingly good ideas thrown out early in the session, tends to suppress/sidetrack other potential ideas from the remaining participants.

– Daraius Hathiram

I do my best brainstorming either: in bed as I am falling asleep; in bed after I wake up but before I get up; and in the bathroom 🙂

– Tom Carley

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