One of the activities that I often use to get students to consider their own state of knowledge is brainstorming. Brainstorming is a cognitive technique that is frequently employed in university seminars, corporate boardrooms and in k-12 classrooms to generate divergent thinking and alternatives to commonly held ideas or practices. Brainstorming is also  the cornerstone of the many lateral thinking exercises of creative thinking guru, Edward De Bono

(This slideshare is best viewed by clicking to go to the slideshare site and then clicking the full screen icon)

Unfortunately, according to Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, research tells us that most brainstorming sessions are not as productive as they could be for the following reasons:

1. Insufficient time allotted and/or too low a quota of ideas to generate

2. Poor interpersonal group dynamics inhibiting participants from making contributions due to negativity, intimidation, apathy, intolerance or personal criticism

3.  Starting with whole group idea generation rather than building upon individual brainstorming with extended whole group idea generation

4. Absent or ineffective facilitation that is risk-averse, unprepared or biased, that reinforces rather than breaks down tendencies toward ” groupthink”.

Brainstorming properly requires anticipation of associative conceptual barriers to be broken ( inevitably, somebody will say  “You can’t do that”) or circumvented; motivated engagement by the participants; the devotion of adequate time and resources; and skillful management of group dynamics by the facilitator or teacher to keep groups moving forward, generating ideas.

With these cautions in mind, periodic brainstorming sessions can be a powerful tool to enhance creative thinking at school or in the workplace.

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