A Cup of Creativi-tea: Brainstorming

Terri Wilson is a solo librarian at the law firm of Underwood, Wilson, Berry, Stein, and Johnson, PC in Amarillo, Texas. She has a BFA in Theatre from Eastern New Mexico University, an MFA in Theatre from Texas Tech University, and an MS in Library & Information Science from the University of North Texas. Prior to becoming a law librarian, Terri was a paraprofessional for six years in the reference department of the University Library at Texas Tech. And prior to that, she explored a cornucopia of employment positions while a laboring as a struggling actor (emphasis on the struggling part). Terri has recently started a blog for creative ideas for librarians.

When it comes to utilizing creativity in the workplace, the brainstorming session is an ideal candidate for getting a return on your creative investment. Whether your session is a half hour long or a half day, you can help your colleagues come up with innovative ideas by tapping into their creative reservoirs.

In previous columns I have covered icebreakers and items that you can bring to meetings to encourage creative thinking. Make sure to use these tools to start your brainstorming session on the right foot. Once you have loosened up your participants, you should set the ground rules. No pre-judging ideas, no rolling of the eyes, no snorting in derision. The purpose of a brainstorming session is to come up with as many ideas as possible, no matter how impractical or impossible they may be on the surface. An outlandish idea may not be used literally, but it may be the catalyst to the perfect solution for your problem. Encourage participants to be open and receptive to all ideas.

Many of the creativity exercises that I have mentioned in past columns can be used as-is in brainstorming sessions or altered slightly to fit the group brainstorming criteria. Here are a couple more ideas for activities that are even more brainstorm-friendly

Free Association

Start with random words first. Say a word and have everyone in the room say words that come to mind. You can write them down on a white board or flip chart. At first, your group will probably spit out words pretty quickly, but as they run out of words that they associate with the given one, you can then give them another word. Go through several random words, then start using words that are evocative of the problem that you are trying to solve.

Another way to do this is to write a word on a white board or flipchart, then have everyone in the group write down the words that they think of on sticky notes, one word per note. You can watch the group as they write, and when they start to slow down, move on to the next word. At the end of the exercise, have everyone put their sticky notes under the appropriate word on the white board or flip chart.


If you have a large group, break it out into groups of no more than four participants each. If you have a small group, have everyone do this exercise individually. Give each group (or individual) 3-5 magazines and have them cut out images that represent the project or problem at hand. Then have them glue or tape those images into a collage. When everyone is done, display the collages so that all participants can view them. Have each group or individual explain why they chose the images.

If you are having just the one session, remember to leave time toward the end for the group to evaluate the ideas generated and choose the ones that the group will move forward on. Assign tasks to everyone for the “next steps” in your project. If the brainstorming session will be followed by additional meetings, you can have your group take the generated ideas and stew on them until the next get-together. If this is the case, you should encourage participants to jot down notes every time they think of something new before the next meeting.

Brainstorming can be an extremely helpful tool for problem-solving, coming up with innovative products and services, and tackling large projects. If you handle the brainstorming session creatively, you might find yourself with solutions beyond your wildest dreams.

Web Resource
Straker, David. “Tools for creating ideas.” CreatingMinds.org.

Posted in: Libraries & Librarians, Library Marketing, Meetings