We often hear the suggestion that you should brainstorm ideas or fill in the topics of one of the resource maps with a brainstorming exercise at your meeting.
What are we talking about?
Brainstorming is a technique for gathering ideas, typically, from a group. There are a number of approaches (see references below) but we will describe one approach that takes advantage of the MindManager® application software. This approach is not only useful for the planning of a workshop but is also a technique you can use during the workshop itself.
We often see brainstorming described as a group exercise, the advantage is to feed off each other’s ideas. An individual, however, can certainly sit and place ideas and random thoughts on paper. In fact, if we look to the idea of "Mind Mapping" (a foundation of the MindManager® application), an individual trying to organize notions and approaches builds a web of statements and connecting lines.
Let's assume a group for now (and read individual if needed).
Brainstorming uses a three step process.
1) The group creates ideas, no matter how absurd, that “might” apply to the problem or goal. No criticism allowed!
2) The ideas are clustered and some critical analysis applied. Criticize the idea not the person!
3) Ideas that survived step 2 are now discussed in more detail, looking for combinations and creative approaches. In effect another round of brainstorming.
This process is an "expansion-contraction" process. The first step expands the universe of solutions by including wild ideas as well as practical ideas.
Grouping and trimming is a contraction process. But we still have more ideas after step two than we would if we limited our view to only practical ideas.
In fact, it is often the absurd idea that "triggers" another person's thought process. And that is why mandating No Criticism during the expansion phase is so important. Don't waste the mental energy evaluating, just keep generating ideas.
An example will help describe the process.
Suppose we have a problem with the visitor's parking spaces filling up before 8am [2, 3]. This can be caused by any number of factors, number of spaces, employees using the visitor spots, etc.
We invite our management team to brainstorm solutions to this problem.
A blank MindManager® Map with the problem statement, "Visitor Parking Lot Full By 8AM”, is displayed in the center. (A whiteboard or flip-chart with the problem statement in the center would also work.)
Some simple groundrules are also displayed:
¨ Everyone Contributes
¨ No Criticism
¨ We Want QUANTITY
You may have to use some facilitation tricks. By asking each person, round-robin, to contribute an idea, you will keep one person from dominating the discussion. You could also ask each attendee to write his/her idea down on a card or sticky-note and then collect and read the ideas anonymously.
Take a look at the map ParkingLot1. (If we were using MindManager® we would record the "idea" as it is, read aloud, to the group. The order or sequence isn't important. The graphics just add color, but then again the balloon might evoke a little whimsy.
One idea will spawn similar suggestions. The contraction step tries to group some of the ideas into common themes.
Before you turn the group loose, add one more groundrule: Criticize The Idea, Not The Person.
With MindManager® we can rearrange ideas by dragging a topic to another related topic. If we were using paper, we might want to ask participants to categorize their idea as to theme during Step 1; this collects them together as you write them down.
Eliminate ideas that clearly violate known laws of physics, are provably too expensive, or are possibly career limiting. (Although you might be able to get the company president to give up his reserved spot. You never know!)
Notice, however, in the earlier step you encourage absurdity because you wanted people thinking off tangent. Just keep in mind when it is appropriate to be a bit more critical.
Take a look at ParkingLot2. We've rearranged the ideas, and we've put a line through (but not erased) the likely impractical candidates.
Remember the groundrules. As you judge an idea “unlikely,” there may still be an emotional word or concept that leads to a truly creative idea. Don’t erase the idea, just mark it unlikely. In ParkingLot2 we used strike-through text.
We are back to an expansion step, similar to step 1 but with an important distinction. What we are looking for this time is combinations of ideas that might solve the problem in a creative way.
The high level themes (like promoting public transportation) might be worthy of brainstorming as a topic all by itself.
Don't enforce practicality on the group at this time, but ask for more detailed descriptions about how the combination might work or why. This is harder for you as a facilitator. You want creativity but now you need a little more detail about how the idea would work. It is very easy to fall into shooting down all the ideas.
Take a look at ParkingLot3. Notice how the notion of Valet Parking is "combined" to control access to the basement parking spaces. Both ideas on their own might have presented problems, but combined they have synergy.
Once again, for the example of ParkingLot3, we've used capabilities in MindManager® to record relations between topics. In a workshop environment, the MindManager® Map could be displayed via LCD projector and manipulated real time.
We might continue the expansion-contraction process a few more times as the group builds a consensus or more details of a solution emerge. Or we might take a promising concept and treat it as a detailed brainstorming project.
A Second Example
So much for theory.
How about the "brainstorming" maps in this book?
One of the files in this book is the GoalsNObjectives map; which we suggested is a brainstorming shell. (We’ve added a version on the next page for your reference.)
If we look at the main topics, the main points are the (A) Goal, (B) Objectives, and the (C) Stakeholders topics.
(A) The Goal will be pretty "obvious" to the group, if not already described in general terms by management. The brainstorming or the debate involves the wording of the problem in a way that describes the purpose of the workshop. This isn't brainstorming in the classical sense but it is group interaction to word the goal properly.
(B) The Objectives, on the other hand, are prime candidates for brainstorming. How can we accomplish the goal? What intermediate steps are needed? These are great candidates for group discussions and brainstorming. In this case the Goal becomes the central idea/problem to be "solved."
(C) Stakeholders are also a great brainstorming topic all by themselves. Getting the group to discuss the key players in implementing/approving/influencing a solution is clearly something that benefits from the ideas of many. You may have to assume some general problem solutions to determine the stakeholders. For the Igor's Balloon Factory example, the problem area was the manufacturing line and the warehouse. Even if the solution details aren't known early in the planning stage, it is pretty clear the manufacturing manager and the warehouse manager are stakeholders. Brainstorming might bring out the purchasing manager as a stakeholder.
What you are doing is treating each topic as a central problem or focus, hence, brainstorming each topic on the map. Your goal is to get group ideas and buy-in. You may need to modify the ground rules for more practical ideas.
So, you don't really brainstorm the entire map. Each topic may be the object of a group exercise.
Figure 1 Goals and Objectives Map
Brainstorming covers a number of techniques. We've tried to explain the fundamental theory but also show application of the techniques to the maps in this book.
These references may provide further help.
Michael Michalko's book "Thinkertoys" has two chapters (34 & 35) devoted to brainstorming techniques. (It is listed in the MasterBibliography under Brainstorming & Mind Mapping.)
Bruce Klatt's book "The Ultimate Training Workshop Handbook" lists a number of group techniques in Chapter 6. His summary of Brainstorming can be found on page 188. (It is listed in the MasterBibliography under Facilities, as that was the material I was interested in for this book.)
Callouts in the text:
 For example, Tony Buzan’s book, “The Mind Map Book,” from Plume Books, reprinted March 1996. ISBN 0452273226
 The parking lot problem was proposed to the author by Nick Duffill, of MindManuals LLC, in the Spring of 2003. The maps were constructed for this Appendix as an example.
 The author was surprised, in late 2004, to find that someone else had used MindManager on a similar problem in 2001. The context was TRIZ, the example was a parking tax, also in the UK. The paper can be found in the TRIZ Journal archives at: