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The lost art of brainstorming – follow these simple rules and you are guaranteed success

The lost art of brainstorming – follow these simple rules and you are guaranteed success

By Rikus Grobler,,

In the previous delivery I looked at some of the better-known problem solving techniques. I delved a bit deeper into Creative Problem Solving (CPS) and one of the steps in CPS is the idea generation phase. There are many idea generation techniques available, and I have had my share of testing out a few of these, and all I can say is that some are definitely better than others.

It is also a case of horses for courses, since environments and circumstances differ and some techniques are better suited to the purpose for which it has been developed. I mean, it is different scenarios searching for and fixing bugs in computer software or trying to find a way to build a bridge in a very challenging environment or finding a solution to a specific frustration a customer has with your product or service.

In the typical organisational setting however, most challenges are usually faced by and solved by a team or a group of people. How this is usually done in the absence of any specific applied methodology is through ordinary discussion. Just think for a moment how many times have you or your team come up with a solution to a problem by merely discussing it and throwing ideas and suggestions around.

That is why I like brainstorming. In my opinion it is just a more formalized manner of our “default” setting for solving problems or coming up with ideas. I have dealt with the “how” of brainstorming in previous articles, and there are a lot of information available on the Internet on this method, so I do not want to repeat it. But I really value this technique, hence I want to concisely list the ground rules of brainstorming and then I would also like to make you think about the criticism against brainstorming and how to solve it.

Brainstorming is dead, long live brainstorming!

The foundational rules of group brainstorming are the following:

1. Focus on quantity: The greater the number of ideas generated, the greater the chance of producing a radical and effective solution.

2. Withhold criticism: By suspending judgement until after the idea generation phase, participants will feel free to generate unusual ideas.

3. Encourage wild ideas: Wild ideas make people laugh, and laughter stimulates creative thinking. 4. Combine and improve ideas: Good ideas may be combined to create better ideas.

Looking at these rules, it is not hard to figure out the biggest criticism against brainstorming. This is usually a mixture of the following:

1. Lack of preparation. You can’t just call a meeting and ask people to brainstorm without any preparation.

2. Lack of focus. Proceeding with a poorly defined topic.

3. Judging every idea as it is put forward.

4. Letting a few participants dominate the discussion.

5. Lack of structure. Creativity without structure produces a formless mess.

6. Fear of being wrong or stupid.

7. Brainstorming done poorly by unskilled facilitators.

The solutions to most of these criticisms are obvious, but also consider the following suggestions for getting the most out of a brainstorming session, based on my learnings and a combination of tips I filtered from the 300 articles on brainstorming in my library. I will keep it to the ten that I have found the most meaningful:

1. Do your homework before the actual brainstorming session. Research background information and gather data on customers, the marketplace, and competition, etc. Identify the needs and motivations of your end-users. Collect stories about what works, and what drives people crazy. Make sense of your research by looking for patterns, themes, and larger relationships between the information, and extracting key insights.

2. Invite people for both content and for decision-making reasons.

3. Invite also a couple of outsiders as outside-the-box thinkers.

4. Do not allow ringing and flashing mobile phones (easier said than done).

5. Do not brainstorm at the office.

6. Hire visualisers or cartoonist to visualise the results (this raises the cost, but I have experienced this first-hand and it is absolutely awesome!).

7. Keep the pace going; otherwise it becomes long-winded and boring.

8. Be open to suggestions from the group to adapt the process. Do not always try to stick to the programme you have set.

9. Use a (skilled) outside facilitator.

10. Follow up quickly. Decisions and other follow-up activities should be quick and thorough. The odds that concrete action will result from an idea generation exercise tend to decline quickly as time passes and momentum fades.

There are without doubt naysayers to brainstorming, but I am a big fan of this technique. To establish a successful brainstorming or idea generation session goes far beyond dumping people into a room. Poorly planned, poorly led and poorly executed brainstorming doesn’t work, just like poorly led firms with little strategy are often unsuccessful. If it is done right, I’ll guarantee a successful result – you’ll see a dramatic difference in your idea generation.

Next Time

I have recently come across a few “alternative” brainstorming techniques which I have found very intriguing, so I would like to share some of these in the next delivery.

I conclude with a quote from Apoki Charles with which I wholeheartedly agree: “Great ideas are like expensive wines. They are best enjoyed when shared . . . especially with those who have value for them.”


About The Author

Rikus Grobler

Dr Rikus Grobler is a Namibian academic, inventor, entrepreneur, public speaker, and management consultant who specialises in the development of the innovation capability of companies and individuals. He holds degrees in Engineering and Law, and has an MBA and a PhD in Business Administration. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and he has also completed studies in design thinking and patenting. He has engaged leading Namibian organisations such as The Capricorn Group, Agra, Old Mutual Namibia, The Bank of Namibia, City of Windhoek, The Government of Namibia, Afrox Namibia, and Hollard Namibia. An experienced professional with a background in manufacturing, information technology, tertiary education and financial services, Dr Grobler has been involved in innovation management for the past 10 years and currently holds the position of Manager: Innovation for the Capricorn Group in Namibia. He is particularly interested in creativity, innovation and invention, and his mission is to provide performance-enhancing innovation management services that enable organisations and individuals to fully exploit their creative potential to reach their goals.

Following reverse listing, public can now acquire shareholding in Paratus Namibia


20 February 2020, Windhoek, Namibia: Paratus Namibia Holdings (PNH) was founded as Nimbus Infrastructure Limited (“Nimbus”), Namibia’s first Capital Pool Company listed on the Namibian Stock Exchange (“NSX”).

Although targeting an initial capital raising of N$300 million, Nimbus nonetheless managed to secure funding to the value of N$98 million through its CPC listing. With a mandate to invest in ICT infrastructure in sub-Sahara Africa, it concluded management agreements with financial partner Cirrus and technology partner, Paratus Telecommunications (Pty) Ltd (“Paratus Namibia”).

Paratus Namibia Managing Director, Andrew Hall

Its first investment was placed in Paratus Namibia, a fully licensed communications operator in Namibia under regulation of the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN). Nimbus has since been able to increase its capital asset base to close to N$500 million over the past two years.

In order to streamline further investment and to avoid duplicating potential ICT projects in the market between Nimbus and Paratus Namibia, it was decided to consolidate the operations.

Publishing various circulars to shareholders, Nimbus took up a 100% shareholding stake in Paratus Namibia in 2019 and proceeded to apply to have its name changed to Paratus Namibia Holdings with a consolidated board structure to ensure streamlined operations between the capital holdings and the operational arm of the business.

This transaction was approved by the Competitions Commission as well as CRAN, following all the relevant regulatory approvals as well as the necessary requirements in terms of corporate governance structures.

Paratus Namibia has evolved as a fully comprehensive communications operator in Namibia and operates as the head office of the Paratus Group in Africa. Paratus has established a pan-African footprint with operations in six African countries, being: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

The group has achieved many successes over the years of which more recently includes the building of the Trans-Kalahari Fibre (TKF) project, which connects from the West Africa Cable System (WACS) eastward through Namibia to Botswana and onward to Johannesburg. The TKF also extends northward through Zambia to connect to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, which made Paratus the first operator to connect the west and east coast of Africa under one Autonomous System Number (ASN).

This means that Paratus is now “exporting” internet capacity to landlocked countries such as Zambia, Botswana, the DRC with more countries to be targeted, and through its extensive African network, Paratus is well-positioned to expand the network even further into emerging ICT territories.

PNH as a fully-listed entity on the NSX, is therefore now the 100% shareholder of Paratus Namibia thereby becoming a public company. PNH is ready to invest in the future of the ICT environment in Namibia. The public is therefore invited and welcome to acquire shares in Paratus Namibia Holdings by speaking to a local stockbroker registered with the NSX. The future is bright, and the opportunities are endless.