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How to make the most out of brainstorming

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Thinking creatively can result in innovative ways of improving services and outcomes, says Helen Dickinson

Being able to think creatively is a key skill. Change and innovation have become key concepts in the NHS in recent years so thinking creatively and encouraging others to do so are crucial to any effective manager’s role.

Creative thinking can seem both challenging and a luxury. Who has time to think when we have busy jobs to do? Yet, the ability to think differently and visualise situations in new ways is never more vital than in times of financial constraint.

There are often many ways of tackling a problem or conducting activities. By thinking creatively we not only see things in another way but also we may be able to improve services for patients and make efficiency savings.

By focusing on what you are aiming to achieve, it is often easier to come up with ideas than if you start from the basis of what currently happens. Brainstorming can be helpful but is most effective when it is structured.

Agree on what you want to achieve and write down every possible solution that comes to mind. Set yourself a goal - for example, come up with 30 new ideas in 10 minutes. Don’t worry about the quality, just list them. Giving yourself a deadline will force you to get creative and think beyond the usual. Once you’ve reached your target, give yourself a little more time to squeeze out the last couple of ideas - often these are your most creative.

Agree criteria for prioritising the ideas, then score them according to the different parameters. Make sure your brainstorming goes beyond ideas generation and you set clear responsibilities and timescales to take the solutions forward. Planning implementation is a vital phase and needs as much thought as idea generation.

Helen Dickinson is lecturer at the Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham, where she heads the health and social care partnerships programme. She is also the co-editor of the Journal of Health Organization and Management

Five tips for effective creative thinking

  • Creative thinking isn’t necessarily about coming up with entirely new ideas or solutions, it’s about connecting different types of knowledge and bringing these to a given situation. Look around and find inspiration from different settings.
  • Thinking creatively means focusing on an area that needs improving, then trying to escape from current ways of seeing the issue and getting beyond traditional concepts of what is “thinkable” in any given situation.
  • Brainstorming is a helpful technique in getting beyond standard ways of thinking, but make sure you write down everything you think - you can always rule things out later.
  • Try to see the issue you are tackling through the eyes of others - it may allow you to see different solutions.
  • When thinking in this way, give yourself time and space. You may have to physically remove yourself from your usual working environment but this will allow you to think more creatively
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Readers' comments (1)

  • This will help me with the project I've just started - thanks

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