Septines can be a powerful tool to aid in effective brainstorming. It is beneficial to understand how and why they work however.
Septines are a technique created by Edward DeBono. I have been reading about them in his book Think Before it’s too Late. (It is a good read by the way)
You may be asking What is a septine?
A septine is a list of several ideas, words or concepts relating to the topic you wish to brainstorm. This then forms the stimulus for further discussion.
It seems so simple and yet it is so powerful.
I liked the idea when I read about it so I decided to experiment with them. I have found them to work nicely. You can see some of my experiments at http://brainstorming.mintranet.com.au.
You can use the technique individually but it is rather effective when used in a group. You start off by explaining what the topic is then ask everyone to write down seven ideas, words or concepts that come to mind. They don’t have to be related, in fact the more diverse the better.
What I have tended to notice is that the first 3 come easily, they are the obvious ones. The next few are a little harder. The last few push you a little more but aren’t too much of a stretch. What we have done here is start you on the normal path of thinking but towards the end started to ease you off it. We need to get off the normal paths in order to find new ideas but people are creatures of habit so this is a good way to start them changing direction.
We then get everyone to state their list of seven. There will be common ideas and there will be different ideas.
Now the fun starts.
The stimulus is in place so we can start the real discussion. Use the lists to branch off in as many different ways as possible.
Was their anything stated that was unexpected?
Does this open up new and unexplored areas?
Can we reorganise the ideas to form new septines?
Can we find underlying themes or patterns in the ideas stated?
Do any new ideas arise given what was stated?
Can we take two or three completely unrelated items and join them and form new ideas from them?
Has your perspective on the topic changed given what others have offered?
We can ask many questions about these septines that will provoke thought in new directions and provide new perspectives.
Another aspect to think of is chunking theory. Chunking theory offers the idea that the conscious or working memory can hold roughly 7 (plus or minus 2) separate objects or pieces of information. This is the same as what we are aiming for in a septine. As a result, we should be able to hold the entire list in our working memory. we are encouraged to hold a diverse list in our mind rather than focus on a particular area.
Septines have been a very useful tool for jump starting creativity. I would highly recommend you give them a try in your next brainstorming session.