Any group attempting to create great things must first start with small ideas and build upon them. Odyssey teams often need to learn how to brainstorm ideas, then how to discuss them, and, finally, how to narrow them down to ones that are practical. At the same time, they must learn to respect each other’s ideas and be willing to give up individual ideas for the success of the group.


Many people, when trying to solve a problem, will develop a mental block. This may be a result of “thinking too hard.” Then, later, without conscious effort, a solution will come to mind. One way to overcome a mental block in the problem-solving process is to hold a brainstorming session.

The purpose of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible. The more ideas a team has to choose from, the greater the chances are of finding one that is successful. Ideas are generated rapidly, which prevents individuals from dwelling on why an idea might not work. Evaluation of the ideas comes at a later stage of solution development. Coaches should teach students how to hold brainstorming sessions, and they may serve as moderators of the sessions. Following are some guidelines to follow for brainstorming:

  1. Allow no criticism. Some people become self-conscious when they feel they may be criticized, which inhibits them from offering ideas. For this reason, it is important to not judge ideas at this time. Present examples of “wild ideas” that were successful such as walking on the moon.
  2. Encourage outrageous ideas. This often results in team members going beyond the normal thought process.
  3. Encourage piggybacking of other ideas. One idea often stimulates a better one.
  4. Evaluate the ideas at the end of the session or after a day or two. Eliminate those that are not feasible.

Teach teams the difference between critiquing — offering constructive criticism — and criticizing, which tends to be negative. Stress that team members are to critique each other’s ideas in a positive manner. Rather than simply saying they don’t like an idea, ask them to state why and offer ways to improve on the idea. Most important, let the team know that while brainstorming is meant to be productive, it should be fun, too. Remind them that decisions made at this time are not always final; ideation is an ongoing process.

Besides having the coach as moderator, each brainstorming group should select a leader to direct the discussion. If a leveling off of ideas occurs, the team leader for that session should encourage new ideas by asking “what if ” type questions such as,

  • “By altering the materials how could we . . .?”
  • “What might happen if we changed its shape?”
  • “How could we adapt it to make it move faster?”
  • “How can we make it smaller, lighter, etc.?”

Have one team member serve as secretary of the session and record all ideas and useful comments. Team members should take turns in these roles.

Specific brainstorming method: diamond brainstorming

The Diamond Brainstorming Method is a visual method that encourages as many ideas as possible. Teams build one idea from another, and all ideas are listed as they “pop out” of the team members’ heads, no matter how “impossible” they seem. Also, by building up ideas one at a time and narrowing them down one at time, the method encourages team members to relinquish ownership of ideas, so no one’s feelings are hurt by rejection during later discussion. The visual quality of this appeals particularly to younger teams who can “see” their ideas taking shape.

Materials: A large chart, newsprint pad, blackboard, or white board; markers or pens; and eager team members wanting to share ideas. FORMAT: Team members sit in chairs or on the floor, with one person recording ideas. (The coach may record the ideas, but he/she must write down the teams’ exact words.)


  1. Team members pose a question, such as, What would be the best way to do ‘X’, or, How can we make ‘Y’, or, What should ‘Z’ look like? Note: The team members must generate the questions themselves, and the questions should be general and open-ended. A coach may help the team determine exactly what it is they want to brainstorm by asking questions such as, What is the problem you are trying to figure out?
  2. All the team members brainstorm answers to the question, and someone suggests his/her idea, and the recorder writes it down on the board or chart.
  3. A second member gives an idea, and it is written down with the first one just below the first idea, so that the ideas begin to fill in the top half of the diamond shape (see Row A). Ideas are repeated on each line; the widest part of the diamond displays ALL the team’s ideas.
  4. After the team members come up with all possible ideas (as few as 4 or 5, or as many as 10 or 15) they then begin, through discussion, to narrow down the possibilities by eliminating one at a time as shown in Row B. They could even combine two or more separate ideas to determine the final one. Hopefully, they’ll come to an agreement on their favorite idea without voting – and without argument! Remember: Only constructive criticism is ever allowed!