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Brainstorming: definition, ground rules, and techniques

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What is brainstorming.

It’s a common scenario: you need to come up with some creative ideas. Maybe you’re trying to find a solution to a complex problem, or perhaps you’re spitballing your team’s next big project.

Either way, you’re feeling the pressure to amp up your innovation and churn out some brilliant suggestions.

What happens now? Well, you might rely on a brainstorming session to get those creative juices flowing. 

Before we dig into the ins and outs of how to brainstorm effectively, it’s helpful to take a step back and actually define brainstorming. Merriam-Webster describes brainstorming as “the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem.” 

Sounds familiar, right? You can brainstorm on your own, but it’s a technique that’s frequently used in group settings to freely share ideas and build upon them.

Brainstorming is prevalent in today’s working world (you’ve likely been a part of a fair share of sessions yourself), but it has some serious historical roots. 

It was first introduced in 1948 by advertising executive Alex F. Osborn in his book "Your Creative Power." As the owner of his own advertising agency, he was looking for ways to pull better ideas out of his employees — something he referred to as “thinking up.” With that objective in mind, he established several principles and characteristics of brainstorming, which we’ll dig into in detail later.

Since that time, brainstorming has gained steam and become a common technique that businesses use to generate creative solutions to a variety of problems.

The importance of brainstorming

While it certainly isn’t without its criticisms and potential pitfalls, there’s a reason this technique has become so popular in the modern working world: it’s effective and is tied to numerous benefits.

Below are just a few of the many advantages of brainstorming that teams can expect to experience.

Brainstorming encourages more creative thinking.

The first benefit is obvious: brainstorming requires an individual or team to think more creatively and without boundaries, which can lead to improved ideas and suggestions. For example, did you know that the idea for the Amazon Echo was reportedly born out of a brainstorming strategy? 

Since brainstorming is often done in a group, it forces us to step away from our own biases and consider other perspectives and contributions without offering any upfront criticism. 

Beyond that, productive brainstorming exercises challenge us to not only consider other ideas but to build upon them — which leads to an even better end result. 

Brainstorming leads to better teamwork and greater group cohesiveness.

All of that working together does more than generate better ideas — it can actually improve our level of teamwork . There’s plenty of research out there that backs this up. 

“Groups that focus on both the quantity of ideas and building on the ideas of others significantly increase their cohesiveness,” said David Henningsen , a Northern Illinois University professor and researcher, who co-led a study on brainstorming . 

“Brainstorming can be used to help a team buy into and implement a plan of action, or it can be used to simply build cohesiveness, which in turn can lessen employee turnover and increase employee commitment.”

Brainstorming gives everybody a chance to be heard.

How to brainstorm: types, ground rules, and techniques.

When done right, brainstorming offers tons of perks. But that begs the question: how exactly do you do it right? 

There’s a bit of strategy involved in pulling off a successful brainstorming session. Here’s the information you need to get the very best ideas out of everyone on your team.

Brainstorming ground rules

Brainstorming techniques.

You have your brainstorming session scheduled and organized. Uhhh...now what? Your team is all just staring at each other slack-jawed. How do you get the conversation rolling? 

Below are just a few of the many different tactics that teams can use to get things started and make their brainstorming discussions that much more productive: 

  • Brainwriting : With this technique, team members share ideas by writing them down independently rather than shouting them out together. It’s especially helpful if you know you have a number of introverts on your team.  
  • Starting with an embarrassing story : Beginning the conversation with something that’s potentially embarrassing immediately puts everybody in a more vulnerable and open state of mind — which makes them more willing to share ideas.  
  • Giving ideas time to marinate : Even though the excitement is strong, you might not want to jump into action on an idea right away. Research shows that even a brief break can give you time to strengthen that suggestion even further.  
  • Figuring storming : This tactic involves putting yourself in the shoes of someone else to think about how they might handle the situation. It can be effective because it challenges us to get away from our own biases and perceptions.

Flex your creative muscles

Brainstorming can be powerful, but it involves more than pulling your team into a room and asking them to share their two cents. It requires a basic understanding to figure out your strategy. 

So, the next time you’re trying to figure out how to brainstorm business ideas, return to this overview as your starting resource. It’ll help you lay the foundation for successful brainstorming sessions moving forward, and you’ll be well on your way to getting the very best ideas out of your team.

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Better Brainstorming

  • Hal Gregersen

summary of brainstorming

Great innovators have long known that the secret to unlocking a better answer is to ask a better question. Applying that insight to brainstorming exercises can vastly improve the search for new ideas—especially when a team is feeling stuck. Brainstorming for questions, rather than answers, helps you avoid group dynamics that often stifle voices, and it lets you reframe problems in ways that spur breakthrough thinking.

After testing this approach with hundreds of organizations, MIT’s Hal Gregersen has developed it into a methodology: Start by selecting a problem that matters. Invite a small group to help you consider it, and in just two minutes describe it at a high level so that you don’t constrain the group’s thinking. Make it clear that people can contribute only questions and that no preambles or justifications are allowed. Then, set the clock for four minutes, and generate as many questions as you can in that time, aiming to produce at least 15. Afterward, study the questions generated, looking for those that challenge your assumptions and provide new angles on your problem. If you commit to actively pursuing at least one of these, chances are, you’ll break open a new pathway to unexpected solutions.

Focus on questions, not answers, for breakthrough insights.

The Problem

Great innovators have always known that the key to unlocking a better answer is to ask a better question—one that challenges deeply held assumptions. Yet most people don’t do that, even when brainstorming, because it doesn’t come naturally. As a result, they tend to feel stuck in their search for fresh ideas.

The Solution

By brainstorming for questions instead of answers, you can create a safe space for deeper exploration and more-powerful problem solving. This brief exercise in reframing—which helps you avoid destructive group dynamics and biases that can thwart breakthrough thinking—often reveals promising new angles and unexpected insights.

About 20 years ago I was leading a brainstorming session in one of my MBA classes, and it was like wading through oatmeal. We were talking about something that many organizations struggle with: how to build a culture of equality in a male-dominated environment. Though it was an issue the students cared about, they clearly felt uninspired by the ideas they were generating. After a lot of discussion, the energy level in the room was approaching nil. Glancing at the clock, I resolved to at least give us a starting point for the next session.

  • Hal Gregersen is a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management , a globally recognized expert in navigating rapid change, and a Thinkers50 ranked management thinker. He is the author of Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life and the coauthor of The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators .

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What is brainstorming.

Brainstorming is a method design teams use to generate ideas to solve clearly defined design problems. In controlled conditions and a free-thinking environment, teams approach a problem by such means as “How Might We” questions. They produce a vast array of ideas and draw links between them to find potential solutions.

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How To Use Brainstorming Best

Brainstorming is part of design thinking . You use it in the ideation phase. It’s extremely popular for design teams because they can expand in all directions. Although teams have rules and a facilitator to keep them on track, they are free to use out-of-the-box and lateral thinking to seek the most effective solutions to any design problem. By brainstorming, they can take a vast number of approaches—the more, the better—instead of just exploring conventional means and running into the associated obstacles. When teams work in a judgment-free atmosphere to find the real dimensions of a problem, they’re more likely to produce rough answers which they’ll refine into possible solutions later. Marketing CEO Alex Osborn, brainstorming’s “inventor”, captured the refined elements of creative problem-solving in his 1953 book, Applied Imagination . In brainstorming, we aim squarely at a design problem and produce an arsenal of potential solutions. By not only harvesting our own ideas but also considering and building on colleagues’, we cover the problem from every angle imaginable.

“It is easier to tone down a wild idea than to think up a new one.” — Alex Osborn

Everyone in a design team should have a clear definition of the target problem. They typically gather for a brainstorming session in a room with a large board/wall for pictures/Post-Its. A good mix of participants will expand the experience pool and therefore broaden the idea space.

summary of brainstorming

Brainstorming may seem to lack constraints, but everyone must observe eight house rules and have someone acting as facilitator.

Set a time limit – Depending on the problem’s complexity, 15–60 minutes is normal.

Begin with a target problem/brief – Members should approach this sharply defined question, plan or goal and stay on topic.

Refrain from judgment/criticism – No-one should be negative (including via body language) about any idea.

Encourage weird and wacky ideas – Further to the ban on killer phrases like “too expensive”, keep the floodgates open so everyone feels free to blurt out ideas (provided they’re on topic).

Aim for quantity – Remember, “quantity breeds quality”. The sifting-and-sorting process comes later.

Build on others’ ideas – It’s a process of association where members expand on others’ notions and reach new insights, allowing these ideas to trigger their own. Say “and”—rather than discourage with “but”—to get ideas closer to the problem.

Stay visual – Diagrams and Post-Its help bring ideas to life and help others see things in different ways.

Allow one conversation at a time – To arrive at concrete results, it’s essential to keep on track this way and show respect for everyone’s ideas.

summary of brainstorming

To capture everyone’s ideas in a brainstorming session, someone must play “scribe” and mark every idea on the board. Alternatively, write down your own ideas as they come, and share these with the group. Often, design problems demand mixed tactics: brainstorming and its sibling approaches – braindumping (for individuals), and brainwriting and brainwalking (for group-and-individual mixes).

Take Care with Brainstorming

Brainstorming involves harnessing synergy – we leverage our collective thinking towards a variety of potential solutions. However, it’s challenging to have boundless freedom. In groups, introverts may stay quiet while extroverts dominate. Whoever’s leading the session must “police” the team to ensure a healthy, solution-focused atmosphere where even the shiest participants will speak up. A warm-up activity can cure brainstorming “constipation” – e.g., ask participants to list ways the world would be different if metal were like rubber.

Another risk is to let the team stray off topic and/or address other problems. As we may use brainstorming in any part of our design process—including areas related to a project’s main scope—it’s vital that participants stick to the problem relevant to that part (what Osborn called the “Point of View”). Similarly, by framing problems with “How Might We” questions, we remember brainstorming is organic and free of boundaries. Overall, your team should stay fluid in the search for ways you might resolve an issue – not chase a “holy grail” solution someone has developed elsewhere. The idea is to mine idea “ore” and refine “golden” solutions from it later.

How to Supercharge Brainstorming with AI

Learn more about brainstorming.

The Interaction Design Foundation’s course on Design Thinking discusses Brainstorming in depth.

This blog offers incisive insights into Brainstorming workshops .

Jonathan Courtney’s article for Smashing Magazine shows Brainstorming’s versatility .

Literature on Brainstorming

Here’s the entire UX literature on Brainstorming by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Brainstorming

Take a deep dive into Brainstorming with our course Design Thinking: The Ultimate Guide .

Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Google, Samsung, and General Electric, have rapidly adopted the design thinking approach, and design thinking is being taught at leading universities around the world, including Stanford d.school, Harvard, and MIT. What is design thinking, and why is it so popular and effective?

Design Thinking is not exclusive to designers —all great innovators in literature, art, music, science, engineering and business have practiced it. So, why call it Design Thinking? Well, that’s because design work processes help us systematically extract, teach, learn and apply human-centered techniques to solve problems in a creative and innovative way—in our designs, businesses, countries and lives. And that’s what makes it so special.

The overall goal of this design thinking course is to help you design better products, services, processes, strategies, spaces, architecture, and experiences. Design thinking helps you and your team develop practical and innovative solutions for your problems. It is a human-focused , prototype-driven , innovative design process . Through this course, you will develop a solid understanding of the fundamental phases and methods in design thinking, and you will learn how to implement your newfound knowledge in your professional work life. We will give you lots of examples; we will go into case studies, videos, and other useful material, all of which will help you dive further into design thinking. In fact, this course also includes exclusive video content that we've produced in partnership with design leaders like Alan Dix, William Hudson and Frank Spillers!

This course contains a series of practical exercises that build on one another to create a complete design thinking project. The exercises are optional, but you’ll get invaluable hands-on experience with the methods you encounter in this course if you complete them, because they will teach you to take your first steps as a design thinking practitioner. What’s equally important is you can use your work as a case study for your portfolio to showcase your abilities to future employers! A portfolio is essential if you want to step into or move ahead in a career in the world of human-centered design.

Design thinking methods and strategies belong at every level of the design process . However, design thinking is not an exclusive property of designers—all great innovators in literature, art, music, science, engineering, and business have practiced it. What’s special about design thinking is that designers and designers’ work processes can help us systematically extract, teach, learn, and apply these human-centered techniques in solving problems in a creative and innovative way—in our designs, in our businesses, in our countries, and in our lives.

That means that design thinking is not only for designers but also for creative employees , freelancers , and business leaders . It’s for anyone who seeks to infuse an approach to innovation that is powerful, effective and broadly accessible, one that can be integrated into every level of an organization, product, or service so as to drive new alternatives for businesses and society.

You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you complete the course. You can highlight them on your resume, CV, LinkedIn profile or your website .

All open-source articles on Brainstorming

Stage 3 in the design thinking process: ideate.

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Learn How to Use the Best Ideation Methods: Brainstorming, Braindumping, Brainwriting, and Brainwalking

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Ideation for Design - Preparing for the Design Race

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What is brainstorming? Definition, history, and examples of how to use it

November 28, 2019 by MindManager Blog

Brainstorming is a great technique that business professionals can use to generate new and unique ideas. It’s a term that’s thrown around quite a bit, and is often used interchangeably with other problem solving and idea generation techniques.

Brainstorming has become part of our daily lexicon in business. But what is brainstorming , and why is it an important technique for business professionals?

This article will tackle these two questions, and give you some examples of brainstorming topics or problems that are common in various business settings.

What is brainstorming and why is it important? | MindManager Blog

What is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a group creativity technique that is often used to find a solution to a specific problem. This is accomplished by gathering and recording new ideas from team members in a free-flowing manner.

Brainstorming sessions are usually made up of a handful of core team members, and typically are led by a director or facilitator.

Brainstorming originated from an advertising executive named Alex F. Osborne, and dates back to around 1939. Frustrated with his employees’ inability to generate creative new ideas, Osborne began developing new methods for problem solving that focused on a team-based approach to work.

He began hosting group-thinking sessions, and discovered that this approach led to a significant boost in the quality and quantity of new ideas. Osborne coined these group meetings “brainstorm” sessions, and wrote about the technique in later publications.

During these brainstorming sessions, ideas are collected and recorded using whatever tool is available to the team. Modern businesses have begun to adopt digital brainstorming tools to speed up the process and make the review phases faster and more productive.

Quantity of ideas is usually emphasized over quality, with the goal of generating as many new suggestions as possible. Once all ideas have been collected, the team then evaluates each of them and focuses on the ones that are most likely to solve the problem.

The four principles of brainstorming

While brainstorming has evolved over the years, Osborne’s four underlying principles are a great set of guidelines when running your own sessions. These principles include:

  • Quantity over quality. The idea is that quantity will eventually breed quality as ideas are refined, merged, and developed further.
  • Withhold criticism. Team members should be free to introduce any and all ideas that come into their heads. Save feedback until after the idea collection phase so that “blocking” does not occur.
  • Welcome the crazy ideas. Encouraging your team members to think outside of the box, and introduce pie in the sky ideas opens the door to new and innovative techniques that may be your ticket for success.
  • Combine, refine, and improve ideas. Build on ideas, and draw connections between different suggestions to further the problem solving process.

Brainstorming techniques and processes helps your team innovate and work collaboratively. There’s no single right way to hold a brainstorming session. In fact, holding individual or reverse brainstorming sessions can both be helpful activities for generating new ideas.

Your goal should always be to use the process that works best for you and your team.

Eight reasons why brainstorming is important?

If you’ve ever held a brainstorming session, you likely know that they can be very effective for generating new ideas, and finding solutions to a problem. This is largely due to the many advantages of brainstorming that help teams work more collaboratively towards a common goal.

Some of the advantages of brainstorming for businesses and individual productivity include:

  • Brainstorming allows people to think more freely, without fear of judgment.
  • Brainstorming encourages open and ongoing collaboration to solve problems and generate innovative ideas.
  • Brainstorming helps teams generate a large number of ideas quickly, which can be refined and merged to create the ideal solution.
  • Brainstorming allows teams to reach conclusions by consensus, leading to a more well-rounded and better informed path forward.
  • Brainstorming helps team members feel more comfortable bouncing ideas off one another, even outside of a structured session.
  • Brainstorming introduces different perspectives, and opens the door to out-of-the-box innovations.
  • Brainstorming helps team members get ideas out of their heads and into the world, where they can be expanded upon, refined, and put into action.
  • Brainstorming is great for team building. No one person has ownership over the results, enabling an absolute team effort.

In summary, the core advantages of brainstorming are its ability to unlock creativity by collaboration. It’s the perfect technique to use for coming together as a team, and can help to generate exciting new ideas that can take your business to a new level.

Now that we’ve established what brainstorming is, and why it’s important, let’s take a look at some examples of scenarios where it would be useful.

Examples of when to use brainstorming

As you can probably guess, brainstorming is a technique that can be used in a wide variety of different situations. It can be in both your personal and professional life to help you find new ideas and solutions to different problems you’re working on.

Because of this versatility, brainstorming is a widely used technique among companies and teams of all sizes.

To get you thinking about where you can use brainstorming, here are some examples of scenarios when this technique might be useful.

Scenario #1

Your content and product marketing teams need to generate new messaging ideas for an upcoming product launch. You have a set of new features that you know will be exciting for your users, but you’re struggling to find the right words to convey their importance and benefits.

Calling a brainstorming session to generate new messaging ideas would be a perfect way to start this writing process. As a team, you can throw as many ideas and slogans together as you can, and then refine them together to get a clear picture of the direction going forward.

Scenario #2

You’ve been tasked by your executive team to come up with a growth strategy for the coming fiscal year, which focuses on expanding your footprint into your most successful markets. You know that there is room for growth, but aren’t sure which areas to focus on.

Gathering the key stakeholders in your department and across the organization for a brainstorming session will help you quickly gather a list of growth opportunities. Each team member will have their own ideas for growth within their role which can be added to a longer list of strategic possibilities.

Scenario #3

Your product development team has been repeatedly running into an issue with a new version of your software. Because of the complexity of the project, it’s difficult to tell what the root cause of the problem might be.

Calling your product team together for a brainstorming session will help you gather opinions on what the issue might be. As more theories come forth, it’s likely that a consensus will start to form about where the core issue lies. From there, you can brainstorm ways to fix the problem.

These are just three high level examples of brainstorming. This technique is incredibly versatile, and can be applied to virtually any problem or goal that your business needs to address.

The advantages of brainstorming are many, and we highly recommend that you start to incorporate it more throughout your business operations.

MindManager® is an innovative visual productivity solution that offers a variety of  pre-built templates to help you visualize projects more effectively, including Kanban boards, Gantt charts, Flowcharts, and more.

Download a free trial of MindManager today to get started with brainstorming!

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What is brainstorming?

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Table of contents

Definition of brainstorming.

Brainstorming is a creative thinking technique for coming up with new ideas and solving problems. Teams use this ideation method to encourage new ways of thinking and collectively generate solutions. Brainstorming encourages free thinking and allows for all ideas to be voiced without judgment, fostering an open and innovative environment. This process typically involves a group of people, although it can be done individually as well.

This guide will help you get the most out of every creative session. When you're ready to start your next free thinking exercise, jump into Miro’s brainstorming tool to generate ideas and turn them into action.

What is the main purpose of brainstorming?

The primary purpose of a brainstorming session is to generate and document many ideas, no matter how “out there” they might seem. Through this lateral thinking process, inventive ideas are suggested, which sparks creative solutions. By encouraging everyone to think more freely and not be afraid to share their ideas, teams can build on each other’s thoughts to find the best possible solution to a problem. Brainstorming usually takes place in a group setting where people get together to creatively solve problems and come up with ideas. However, it’s also useful for individuals who need to explore novel solutions to a problem. Sitting down by yourself and writing down solutions to potential problems is a great way to brainstorm individually. Focusing your mind on a defined problem allows you to think of many creative ways to get to an answer. While brainstorming normally allows for free-form methods of thinking and doesn’t require many rules, the best results usually stem from controlled sessions. Posing questions and role-playing different scenarios during the brainstorming session is a smart way to pull out unusual ideas and never-before-thought-of solutions.

summary of brainstorming

Benefits of brainstorming

Why is brainstorming such a popular approach to solving problems and generating ideas? Here are some of its many advantages:

Encourages creativity

Brainstorming sessions are meant to be free of judgment. Everyone involved is meant to feel safe and confident enough to speak their minds. There will be some good and some bad ideas, but this doesn’t matter as long as the final outcome is one that can solve the problem. This kind of free-thinking environment, along with a few essential brainstorming rules, encourage creativity in the workplace.

Fosters collaboration and team building

Brainstorming is not only good for problem-solving. It also allows employees and team members to understand how the people around them think. It helps the team get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and helps build a more inclusive and close-knit workforce.

summary of brainstorming

Generates innovative, revolutionary ideas

Brainstorming is the perfect mix between a free-thinking, creative environment and one that is governed by rules. Being faced with a defined problem or asking questions like “What do we do in X scenario?” forces everyone in the room to come up with ideas and solutions. No two people think alike. So, combining the good parts of everyone’s answers will result in holistic and revolutionary solutions.

Establishes different perspectives

One of the major benefits of brainstorming is that it allows and encourages all members of the session to freely propose ideas. This type of environment fosters courage in people who may not usually offer their perspective on a problem. Garnering a range of different perspectives can lead to a never-before-thought-of solution.

Introduces many ideas quickly

The beauty of brainstorming is that it encourages teams to come up with many ideas in a relatively short period of time. Ideas are thrown around, and every train of thought is documented. Different perspectives give different answers, and sifting through a few good answers in quick succession may lead to the perfect solution in no time.

Types of brainstorming techniques

There are plenty of creative brainstorming techniques to choose from. Here are some of the most popular ones:

Reverse brainstorming

In a typical brainstorming session, the group is asked to consider solutions to a problem. This means that they will spend time thinking about the outcome — the end goal — rather than the root of the problem — the starting point. Reverse brainstorming is simply the opposite: teams are asked to ideate on the problem instead of the solution. This type of brainstorming is done before the start of an important project, as it helps teams anticipate any future obstacles that might arise. To help frame this way of thinking, use a Reverse Brainstorming Template to get the team started.

Random word brainstorming

One of the main goals of a brainstorming session is to come up with new ideas. One of the best ways to do this is to say the first words that come to mind when a specific topic or subject is mentioned. Random word brainstorming allows for exactly that. The team is given a problem, and they need to shout out the first words that they think of, regardless of what they are. These words are then written down and later put into interesting combinations to see if they will lead to a usable solution. This brainstorming method is extremely fast and usually very efficient at solving a defined problem. The Random Words Brainstorming Template can help get you started.

summary of brainstorming

The 5 Whys Method

Like the reverse brainstorming method, the 5 Whys method aims to look at the root causes of a problem to stop that same issue from arising again. This method attempts to curb the problem before it can reoccur by asking the question “why?” over and over until it can no longer be answered. Once you reach this stage, you have arrived at the root cause of the issue.


Developed by Bob Earle, an author of creativity books for kids, the SCAMPER model was originally a game aimed at imagination development in adolescents. It has, however, become popular in the corporate world as a means of improving and encouraging creativity in team members when dealing with complex, defined problems. Using this model, your team will view a problem through 7 filters: substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate, and reverse.

summary of brainstorming

Rapid ideation

Rapid ideation brainstorming is almost the exact same thinking model as random word brainstorming. In this method, however, everyone writes down the solutions they are thinking of instead of shouting them out. This gives participants a bit more privacy with their immediate thoughts — possibly leading to even more creative and revolutionary outcomes.


Once again, brainstorming can change based on the team’s perspective and each session’s expected outcome. Starburst brainstorming focuses on getting the team to ask questions instead of coming up with answers.

How to hold a brainstorming workshop

Ready to harness the power of a well-run brainstorming session? Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to organize a successful brainstorming workshop:

1. Assign a facilitator

When done as a group, a brainstorming session needs to have boundaries. You need to choose someone who will facilitate the session and provide guidelines for the thinking exercises that the group will partake in. This is so the session doesn’t get too scattered and stays on the right track. The facilitator should pose questions and guide the group from start to finish.

2. Establish context and ensure group understanding

A brainstorming session cannot be properly carried out without context. The group must understand why they are meeting and what the end goal of the session is. Everyone should also understand the meaning of brainstorming and what to expect from the brainstorming process. The brainstorming method that will be used should also be established (see point 5) and explained at the outset.

3. Define an objective

While brainstorming is often looked at as a form of free-thinking creativity, it is best to try to stay within certain rules. It’s essential that you define a clear objective and use the session to reach your predetermined goal.

4. Set a time limit

Setting a defined time limit before the session starts is important to the success of your brainstorming session. No doubt your team could come up with countless ideas, but there has to be a limit on how long the session can run. Knowing that you need to solve a problem within one hour, for instance, will help the team focus on the job at hand and come up with ideas faster. It will also keep everyone thinking about the same problem.

5. Decide on the brainstorming technique

The brainstorming technique that will be used must be decided on before the session begins. The best way to do this is to look at the problem at hand. If you’re looking to prevent obstacles from arising in the future, try the “5 Whys” technique. If you’re looking to come up with new marketing ideas or get creative with workplace conflicts, try the rapid ideation technique.

summary of brainstorming

6. Set some ground rules

As stated above, the best and most productive brainstorming sessions are those that allow for free thinking and creativity within preset boundaries. Brainstorming ground rules are essential to to the success of the session, as they keep everyone focused on the topic at hand and ensure that no one goes off track.

7. Capture all ideas

The entire point of a brainstorming session is to come up with as many ideas as possible, regardless of whether the standalone suggestion will lead to success. This means that you need to use the right tools to document the ideas being suggested. Miro has a host of idea-capturing tools, including a simple-to-use visual platform for remote brainstorming sessions and digital sticky notes .

8. Discuss and vote on ideas

After all the ideas have been captured, it’s time to discuss them. The team needs to be productive in choosing a creative idea that suits the problem, or they can try combining a few ideas to come up with a holistic solution. To make decisions as a group and come to an agreement, teams can use the dot voting method . This technique reveals group priorities and helps everyone reach a consensus on the direction to take.

9. Turn ideas into action

Once the final idea has been chosen, it’s time to create a plan of action and a deadline for the idea to be put in place. Transform your ideas into detailed, tangible steps with the Action Plan Template . This will help with coordination between team members and ensures that nothing is missed.

summary of brainstorming

Tips for your brainstorming activities

While all brainstorming sessions look a little different, here are some best practices to get the most out of yours:

Record all ideas

If you want to have a successful and productive brainstorming session, it’s important that you capture every idea suggested, good and bad. An idea might seem silly when first brought up, but it might become an invaluable idea as the session moves on. Capture everything, and right at the end, work out which ideas best suit the problem.

Ensure that everyone’s ideas are heard

When brainstorming is done as a group activity, everyone needs to feel comfortable and confident to propose ideas. The best way to make sure the environment fosters these feelings is to make the session feel like a conversation, not a presentation. Create a safe and open environment that gives everyone equal opportunity to voice their opinions and ideas.

Focus on quantity

People often like to say, "Focus on quality, not quantity," but it’s the opposite when brainstorming. In a brainstorming session, you should focus on getting as many ideas on the board as possible, even if they're only one-word ideas. These can all be used to come to a holistic solution at the end of the session. Each suggestion could be invaluable if you're coming up with a combined idea.

Brainstorming should be a fun and creative endeavor. You shouldn’t be too rigid — though some ground rules are important. If your team has weekly brainstorming sessions, try new brainstorming techniques and activities each time you meet. This will keep your team members on their toes and help make them excited about the next meeting. It will also encourage out-of-the-box thinking, which is essential to any successful brainstorming session.

Avoid criticism

We’ll say it again: there are no bad ideas in a brainstorming session. This is the attitude that all team members must adopt when entering the session. No one should be criticized for the ideas that they propose. The best way to foster an environment that is devoid of criticism and encourages creativity is to maintain a relaxed approach. This will make everyone feel comfortable and happy to contribute their ideas.

Discover more

Guide to collaborative brainstorming

When to use brainstorming (and which techniques are best)

What is brainwriting?

What is reverse brainstorming?

How to conduct a brainstorming session

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29 brainstorming techniques: effective ways to spark creativity

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Bright ideas don’t come as easily as flicking on a light. 

When it’s up to one individual to dream up a solution, it can be time-consuming and cause a lot of pressure. And when it comes to a group of people tasked with solving a problem, ideas might clash. Not to mention, everyone has a preferred method for their creative madness, making it difficult to get every team members’ wheels turning in the same direction.

That’s where brainstorming techniques come in. These techniques provide structure for brainstorming sessions, ignite creativity across all brainstormers, and ensure your ideas come to fruition. And luckily, there are lots of effective brainstorming techniques to choose from. 

What is brainstorming?

Here’s a general brainstorming definition: it’s an approach taken by an individual or team to solve a problem or generate new ideas for the improvement of a product, organization, or strategy. 

No matter your preferred method, most brainstorming techniques involve three steps:

Capture ideas

Discuss and critique the ideas

Choose which ideas to execute

Every brainstorming technique also involves the same ingredients. All you need is an individual or group of people, a problem to solve or an opportunity to address, and time. 

Brainstorming challenges

The golden rule of all brainstorming sessions is quantity over quality. The more ideas you have, the better your chances are that one will be worthy of execution. For these reasons, especially in group brainstorming sessions, be sure all team members check their criticisms at the door and let it be known that the only bad ideas are no ideas. 

Of course, not every brainstorming session will go off without a hitch. Some common brainstorming challenges include:

Unbalanced conversations, sometimes due to extroverts dominating discussions

The anchoring effect, meaning brainstormers cling to the first few ideas shared and don’t move on to others

Awkward silences, which often occur when participants are not prepared 

Perhaps you’ve experienced some of these uncomfortable brainstorming sessions yourself. Thankfully, there are plenty of tried-and-true, and also some unorthodox, brainstorming techniques and tools that tackle just these issues.

Analytic brainstorming techniques

Analytic brainstorming techniques

When you need to look at an idea from all angles or vet a problem thoroughly, analytic brainstorming techniques might be worth implementing. Consider the following brainstorming methods and tools to generate and qualify ideas.

1. Starbursting  

A visual brainstorming technique, starbursting should be used once you or your team of brainstormers has homed in on a single idea. To begin starbursting, put an idea on the middle of a whiteboard and draw a six-point star around it. Each point will represent a question:

Consider every question and how it might pertain to your idea, such as, “Who will want to buy this product?” or, “When will we need to launch this program?” This will help you explore scenarios or roadblocks you hadn’t considered before.

Best for: large group brainstorms, vetting ideas thoroughly

2. The five whys, a.k.a. why analysis

Similar to starbursting, the five whys brainstorming technique helps you evaluate the strength of an idea. Challenge yourself to ask “why” questions about a topic or idea at least five times and consider what new problems you surface—and, importantly, note how you can address them. To help organize your thoughts, consider using a flowchart or fishbone diagram in hand with this brainstorming technique.

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, vetting ideas thoroughly

3. SWOT analysis

You might be familiar with SWOT analysis as it relates to strategic planning , and you might also be surprised to know that this concept can also be applied as a brainstorming exercise to help qualify an idea. The notion? Discuss the following aspects of your topic to determine whether it’s worth executing: 

Strengths : how does the idea dominate or stand out from competitors?

Weakness : are there any flaws in the idea that could jeopardize its execution?

Opportunities : what else can you capitalize on based on this idea?

Threats : what are potential downfalls that could arise if the idea is launched?

4. How Now Wow  

The How Now Wow brainstorming technique is all about categorizing ideas based on how unique they are and how easy they are to implement. Once you’ve collected several ideas, either individually or from team members, talk through where they fall in the How Now Wow spectrum:

How ideas are ideas that are original but not executable. 

Now ideas are unoriginal ideas that are easily executable.

Wow ideas are never-been-pitched before ideas that are also easy to implement.

Obviously, you want as many “Wow” ideas as possible since these are executable but also because they might set you apart from competitors or dispel monotony in a company. To help organize your ideas, consider using a matrix of four squares with difficulty weighted on the Y-axis and innovation on the X-axis. 

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, homing in on an executable solution

5. Drivers analysis

Just as the name implies, driver analysis is a brainstorming technique that analyzes the drivers or “causes” of a problem. To use this brainstorming technique, simply keep asking yourself or your team of brainstormers: “What’s driving [insert problem]?” and then, “What’s driving [insert answer to the previous question]?” Similar to why analysis, the deeper you dig into a problem, the more well-vetted it will be and the more confident you will be in executing solutions for those problems. 

6. Mind mapping

Another visual brainstorming technique, mind mapping addresses the anchoring effect—a common brainstorming challenge where brainstormers fixate on the first ideas instead of coming up with new ones. Mind mapping does this by using the first idea to inspire other ideas. 

You’ll need a large piece of paper or whiteboard to do this. Begin by writing down a topic and then drawing lines connecting tangential ideas to it. This essentially helps you paint a picture of your topic at hand and what might impact its execution or even expedite it.

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, visual thinkers

7. Gap filling, a.k.a. gap analysis

When you’re struggling with how to execute an idea, that’s where gap filling comes in—to address the obstacles standing in your way. Begin by starting with a statement of where you are and then a statement of where you want to be. For example, “Our company creates smart watches; we want to expand our portfolio to also include fitness trackers.”

It’s worth writing these out on a large piece of paper or a whiteboard for all of your brainstormers to see, perhaps using a flowchart or mind map to do so. Then, list obstacles that are preventing you from getting where you want to be and work through solutions for each of them. By the end of your brainstorming session, you should have a clearer plan of how to get where you want to be. 

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, visual thinkers, honing in on an executable solution

Quiet async brainstorming techniques

Quiet brainstorming techniques

Best for businesses that are crunched for time or teams with more introverted individuals, these quiet brainstorming techniques allow brainstormers to contribute ideas on their own time and often anonymously. Look to the following methods to get your creative juices flowing, especially for remote teams with frequent virtual meetings .   

8. Brainwriting, a.k.a. slip writing

A nonverbal and in-person brainstorming technique, brainwriting addresses the brainstorming challenge of unbalanced conversations head-on. That’s because it requires participation and teamwork from every brainstormer, beginning with each person writing down three ideas relating to a topic on three separate slips of paper. Then everyone passes their ideas to the right or left and their neighbor builds on those ideas, adding bullet points and considerations. 

The slips of paper continue to be passed around the table until they’ve made it all the way around. Then, the brainstorm facilitator can digest all of the ideas themselves, or the brainstormers can discuss each idea out loud and determine what’s worth pursuing. Pro tip: limit this brainstorming technique to no more than 10 people to not be overwhelmed with ideas or time constraints.

Best for: group brainstorms and introverted team members

9. Collaborative brainwriting

You can think of collaborative brainwriting like a herd of cows grazing in a field, except it’s brainstormers grazing on ideas throughout a week, anonymously jotting down thoughts or ideas. Oftentimes a brainstorming facilitator will kick off this technique by posting a large piece of paper, sticky notes, or sharing a cloud-based document to jot down a few brainstorming ideas.

From there, team members can build off of those ideas on their own time and anonymously provide feedback. Be sure to set a clear deadline of when the brainstorming session closes to ensure all brainstormers have an opportunity to chime in.

Best for: individual brainstorming 

10. Brain-netting, a.k.a. online brainstorming

Great for remote teams, brain-netting is essentially a place for a team to brain dump their own ideas, whether that’s a Slack channel, Google Doc, or your project management tool . 

The notion is that brainstormers can add ideas whenever inspiration strikes and that the list will be ever-evolving. Of course, the team leader might want to inform their team of brainstormers of any important dates or deadlines when they need solutions to a problem. They may also want to hold a meeting to discuss the ideas. All brainstormers’ identities can be left anonymous even in the meeting. 

Best for: group brainstorms, introverted team members, remote teams


The SCAMPER brainstorming technique encourages brainstormers to look at an idea from different angles and it uses its acronym to inspire each lens: 

Substitute : consider what would happen if you swapped one facet of a solution for another.

Combine : consider what would happen if you combined one facet of a solution with another.

Adapt : consider how you could adapt an idea or solution in a new context.

Modify : consider how you can modify an idea to make it higher impact.

Put to another use : consider how else you could leverage your idea.

Eliminate : consider what you could remove from the idea or solution so that it’s simplified.

Reverse effective : finally, consider how you could reorganize an idea to make it most effective . 

When used in a group brainstorming session, you might want to use templates to track responses or pair the SCAMPER method with a brainwriting session to encourage all brainstormers to evaluate ideas from every angle. 

12. Lightning Decision Jam

Known as LDJ for short, the Lightning Decision Jam brainstorming technique requires 40 minutes to one hour to complete. What will you have by the end? Tangible results and buy-in from an entire team of brainstormers. 

This brainstorming technique is great for remote team alignment . It all begins with writing down positives about a topic or what’s working regarding the topic, then writing down negatives and identifying what needs to be addressed most urgently. This is followed by a few minutes of reframing problems as questions, then brainstorming solutions for those problems. 

Finally, your team uses a matrix to determine how high impact and how high effort your solutions are to decide which ideas are worth pursuing. For a more robust explanation of LDJ, watch this video by design agency AJ&Smart, which created the brainstorming technique. 

Best for: group brainstorms, remote workforces, tight deadlines, honing in on an executable solution

13. The idea napkin

Similar to LDJ, the idea napkin is essentially a brainstorming template that distills a broad topic into tangible solutions. How it works: Every brainstormer has an “idea napkin” that they commit one idea to, beginning by writing down their idea, as well as an elevator pitch for it. 

The idea napkin also includes a column for who the idea is targeting—meaning who you’re solving a problem for (customers, teammates, etc.)—and a column noting what problems your idea addresses. Brainstormers can fill out their napkins ahead of or during a brainstorming session, each is expected to present or share them. The final ideas will be placed on an impact and effort matrix to determine which are worth pursuing. 

Best for: group brainstorms, honing in on an executable solution

Roleplaying brainstorm techniques

Roleplay brainstorming techniques

Drama lovers rejoice! These roleplay brainstorming techniques encourage brainstormers to figuratively walk in someone else’s shoes or put on their hat—or six hats, in one instance—to address a problem or dream up ideas from a new perspective. An added benefit of this? When brainstormers take on a personality that’s not their own, it lowers inhibitions since it’s technically not their point of view being brought to the table.

14. Six thinking hats

This brainstorming technique requires a minimum of six brainstormers to wear imaginary hats—hence the name— that require them to look solely at an idea from one specific angle. For instance, one brainstormer might be wearing an impact hat and only concern themselves with the impact of an idea and another might be wearing a constraints hat and only looking at the constraints of an idea. 

You can pick and choose which angles are most important to your organization. And by the end of the group discussion, the whole brainstorming group should be able to hang their hats feeling confident about the ideas you’ll pursue.

Best for: group brainstorms (six or more people), introverted team members, vetting ideas thoroughly

15. Figure storming

Ever heard the phrase, “What would Abe do?” That’s pretty much the premise of this brainstorming technique in that brainstormers take on the identity of a famous or prominent figure, whether that’s a leader or celebrity, and put themselves in their brain space and how they’d approach an idea. 

This helps teams look at a topic through a different lens and, in the case of group brainstorms, alleviates any nervousness that brainstormers will put out bad ideas. Because they’re not putting out their ideas—they’re sharing someone else’s. So go on and give yourself a new job title for the day.

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, extroverted team members

16. Role storming  

Role storming is similar to figure storming in that brainstormers take on different personalities to dream up ideas, but with one dramatic twist—brainstormers act out those ideas. 

Generally, brainstormers are asked to take on the role of an average person who will be affected by the idea or solution in question, whether that’s an employee, client, or another party, and they act out a scenario that could stem from the idea to help them decipher what problems might arise from it. Consider this brainstorming technique for more extroverted teams. 

Best for: group brainstorms, extroverted team members

17. Reverse brainstorming

Reverse brainstorming is grounded in a little bit of chaos. It encourages brainstormers to play the role of disruptors by brainstorming problems first and then solutions. To kick off the brainstorming questions, a team leader will usually ask, “How do we cause [insert problem]?”

Once your team has listed the causes, they’ll have a new and different perspective for coming up with solutions to problems. 

Best for: group brainstorms, idea generation, problem-solving

18. Reverse thinking

Reverse thinking is a bit of a mashup of the figure storming and six thinking hats brainstorming techniques. It encourages brainstormers to merely ask themselves, “What would someone else do in this situation?” Then, it prompts them to think through why that person’s solution would work or not and if your current solution is more effective. 

Best for: group brainstorms, extroverted team members, vetting ideas thoroughly

Group brainstorm techniques

Group brainstorming techniques

Most brainstorming techniques can be applied to groups of brainstormers, but these specific brainstorming techniques promote (and some even require) participation from everyone. When facilitated well, group brainstorming techniques not only yield more ideas but they can also:

Boost team morale through lighthearted brainstorming games and by involving participation in every step of the brainstorming process

Promote creative thinking, especially when brainstormers are given time to prepare their ideas and  a structured approach to solve problems

Bring more diverse ideas together, thanks to the unique perspective each brainstormer has and their individual strengths

All this to say, group brainstorming techniques are all about putting people’s heads together. 

19. Eidetic image method

The eidetic image method is grounded in setting intentions, and it begins with group members all closing their eyes to do just that. For example, if a company is setting out to design a new smartwatch, the brainstorming facilitator would encourage all brainstormers to close their eyes and quietly meditate on what smartwatches currently look like. 

Then the group would discuss and close their eyes once more and quietly imagine new features to add to the device. They’d all open their eyes and discuss again, essentially layering on the possibilities for enhancing a product. This brainstorming technique is ideal for revamping or building on an existing product or solution. 

Best for: visual thinkers, creating an idea anew

20. Rapid ideation

Great for teams that get sidetracked or have difficulty staying focused in meetings, the rapid ideation brainstorming technique encourages brainstormers to race against a clock and come up with as many ideas as possible—and importantly, not take themselves too seriously. This can be done by having brainstormers shout out ideas to a facilitator or write them on a piece of paper. You might find that some of the same ideas keep popping up, which likely means those are worth pursuing. 

Best for: extroverted team members, tight deadlines

21. Round-robin brainstorming

Participation is required for the round-robin brainstorming technique. Everyone must contribute at least one idea before the entire group can give feedback or share a second idea.

Given the requirement that everyone must share an idea, it’s best to allow brainstormers time to prepare ideas before each round-robin brainstorming session. This brainstorming technique is great for introverted team members and also for larger groups to ensure everyone can contribute. Moreover, the round-robin brainstorming technique also promotes the notion that the only bad idea is no idea. 

Best for: introverted team members and developing a surplus of ideas

22. Step-ladder brainstorming

Ideal for medium-sized groups of five to 15 people, the step-ladder brainstorming technique prevents ideas from being influenced by the loudest brainstormers of a group. 

Here’s how it works: A brainstorming facilitator introduces a topic to their group of brainstormers and then dismisses all but two brainstormers from the room. The two brainstormers left in the room discuss their ideas for a few minutes and then one brainstormer is welcomed back into the room and shares their ideas before the original two brainstormers divulge their ideas. 

Brainstormers are added back into the room one by one, with each new brainstormer sharing their ideas before the rest of the group divulges theirs, and so forth. Once the entire brainstorming group is back in the room, it’s time to discuss the ideas they’ve built together, step by step. 

Best for: introverted team members, vetting ideas thoroughly, honing in on an executable solution

23. Charrette

You might want to book a few rooms for this one. The charette brainstorming technique helps break up a problem into smaller chunks and also breaks up your brainstormers into separate teams to address them. 

For instance, you might reserve three rooms, write a topic or problem on a whiteboard, and have three sets of brainstormers walk into those rooms to jot down their ideas. Then, the sets of brainstormers rotate rooms and build off of the ideas of the group that was there before them. Consider it effective teamwork at its best.

Best for: vetting ideas thoroughly, honing in on an executable solution

More brainstorming techniques

For more unconventional approaches to get your individual or your team’s wheels turning, consider adding some of these brainstorming techniques to your arsenal of ways to ideate. 

24. ‘What if’ brainstorming

A very off-the-cuff brainstorming technique, “what if” brainstorming is as simple as throwing out as many “what if” questions surrounding a topic as possible, similar to the rapid ideation brainstorming technique. For instance, “what if this problem occurred in a different country,” or, “what if this problem occurred in the 1800s?” 

Walking through the scenarios might help spur new obstacles pertaining to your problem. Essentially, the “what if” brainstorming technique helps your team evaluate all the possibilities.

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, creating an idea anew, vetting ideas thoroughly

25. Change of scenery  

It’s no secret that physical surroundings can impact your team workflow and even creativity. When your brainstorming session is in a rut, consider relocating to another location, perhaps a park, a walking meeting, or even a coffee shop.

Being in a new setting might spur new ideas and even loosen up your brainstormers so that they’re more open to sharing ideas and helping you achieve quantity over quality.  

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, creating an idea anew

26. Random word picker

As this name implies, this brainstorming technique is a little random. Begin by tossing words into a hat and then pull them out and discuss how they relate to your brainstorming topic at hand. You may want to use a template to keep track of your thoughts and any new ideas the word association sparks.

To further organize your thoughts, consider pairing this brainstorming technique with word banking, meaning categorizing random words together and then drawing associations between their category and the brainstorming topic. 

Best for: group brainstorms, creating an idea anew

27. Storyboarding

Turns out, storyboarding isn’t only for television and film. You can also apply this as a brainstorming technique, meaning illustrating or drawing a problem and possible solutions. Consider it another way to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, especially those your solution impacts. It’s also a means to visualize any roadblocks you might experience when executing a solution. 

Best for: individual or group brainstorms, problem-solving, vetting ideas thoroughly

28. Wishing

Wishing is as simple as it sounds: You just wish for the solution you want to build. Think: “I wish our company was carbon neutral,” and then think of the possible ways in which you could achieve this, as well as areas that might be impossible to address for this. This will help uncover obstacles you might face and maybe even shed light on what you’re capable of overcoming. 

Best for: individual or group brainstorms, creating an idea anew

29. Crazy eights

A short and fun brainstorming technique, crazy eights delivers on quantity by encouraging brainstormers to think quickly using a template that has eight boxes and only eight minutes on the clock to sketch out eight ideas. Once the timer stops, the group discusses their ideas. 

For a larger group, consider having each brainstormer narrow in on only three ideas and give them a longer time limit of six minutes to sketch them out in more detail.

Best for: group brainstorms, visual thinkers, developing a surplus of ideas

8 tips for a productive brainstorming session

No matter which brainstorming technique is right for you and your team, consider the following best practices to brainstorm most effectively . Of course, it all begins with the brainstorming facilitator and how they set the tone for the session.

1. Allow time to prep 

A brainstorming facilitator isn’t the only one in a brainstorming session who needs time to prepare for a meeting . They also should give brainstormers some context ahead of the session, such as in the form of a meeting agenda , to get in the correct mindset for the brainstorming session. 

At least one day is standard but as little as two to 10 minutes is useful. Moreover, brainstorming facilitators should also have a few ideas in their back pocket for any creative ruts that might creep in.

2. Set a clear intention

The more context you can provide brainstormers from the get-go, the more fruitful ideas they can produce. For instance, clearly spell out what types of ideas you’re looking for. Whether it’s quickly executable ones or ones that are entirely pathbreaking, identify specific targets to address. 

Additionally, be sure to let brainstormers know of any constraints you or your organization is operating under, including project timelines or budgets, so they’re generating executable ideas.

3. Invite new teammates and ideas

When the same people brainstorm together over and over, they can tend to produce the same ideas over and over. For this reason, consider introducing new people to your brainstorming session to shake up the usual and lend a fresh perspective—and hopefully fresh ideas—to your brainstorming topics. Invitees can be colleagues from different departments, customers or clients for a focus group, or an outside consultant.

4. Promote inclusivity

Every brainstorming session should be considered a safe space to share ideas—even unconventional ones. Remember, the only bad ideas are no ideas, and any idea shared shouldn’t be shot down or judged. In addition, the brainstorm facilitator should ensure every brainstormer is treated equally and given the same amount of time to talk. This might mean setting a timer for each brainstormer to talk and acknowledging those who are dominating conversations. Likewise, every brainstormer should be open and curious to ideas.

5. Think out of the box

Creative thinking begins with not taking ourselves too seriously. Just as you encourage inclusivity, encourage imperfections and out-of-the-box thinking, too. This could include anything from fun team building games to unique icebreaker questions. Hey, even a bevy of silly ideas to build off of is better than no ideas at all. Brainstorming techniques like wishing can encourage team members to open up.

6. Amplify creativity with music

Similar to how a change of scenery can inspire new ideas, even a little background music can promote creativity. Consider putting some on for your brainstorming session, and for the best results ensure it’s:


In a major key

On a fixed tempo and volume

7. Mix and match brainstorming techniques

Just as brainstorming techniques aren’t necessarily one-size-fits-all, they also aren’t all one-type-fits-every-session. Be prepared to pivot your brainstorming technique depending on what your group of brainstormers is most receptive to and also how many ideas you're juggling. 

8. Execute your ideas 

Coming up with bright ideas is great. But they’re pretty useless unless you effectively execute them. While some brainstorming techniques build the execution process into them, others might require you to follow up with brainstormers using project templates to map out a plan using creative solutions. 

Brainstorming is about quantity over quality

When done right, a brainstorming session shouldn’t feel like a chore but rather an opportunity to create something together, especially when your brainstorming technique supports different styles of thinking and expression. 

And whether you're operating as an individual or on a team, there’s something uniquely satisfying about seeing your ideas come to fruition. Get the creative ideas flowing, then customize your workflow management tool to turn those ideas into action. 


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Generating many radical, creative ideas.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

How often have you used brainstorming to solve a problem? Chances are, you've used it at least once, even if you didn't realize it.

For decades, people have used brainstorming to generate ideas, and to come up with creative solutions to problems. However, you need to use brainstorming correctly for it to be fully effective.

In this article, we'll look at what brainstorming is, why it's useful, and how to get the best from it.

Click here to view a transcript of this video.

What Is Brainstorming?

Madison Avenue advertising executive Alex Osborn developed the original approach and published it in his 1953 book, "Applied Imagination." [1]

Since then, researchers have made many improvements to his original technique. The approach described here takes this research into account, so it's subtly different from Osborn's approach. [2]

Brainstorming combines a relaxd, informal approach to problem solving with lateral thinking. It encourages people to come up with thoughts and ideas that can, at first, seem a bit crazy. Some of these ideas can be crafted into original, creative solutions to a problem, while others can spark even more ideas. This helps to get people unstuck by "jolting" them out of their normal ways of thinking.

Therefore, during brainstorming sessions, people should avoid criticizing or rewarding ideas. You're trying to open up possibilities and break down incorrect assumptions about the problem's limits. Judgment and analysis at this stage stunts idea generation and limit creativity.

Evaluate ideas at the end of the session – this is the time to explore solutions further, using conventional approaches.

Why Use Brainstorming?

Conventional group problem solving can often be undermined by unhelpful group behavior . And while it's important to start with a structured, analytical process when solving problems, this can lead a group to develop limited and unimaginative ideas.

By contrast, brainstorming provides a free and open environment that encourages everyone to participate. Quirky ideas are welcomed and built upon, and all participants are encouraged to contribute fully, helping them develop a rich array of creative solutions.

When used during problem solving, brainstorming brings team members' diverse experience into play. It increases the richness of ideas explored, which means that you can often find better solutions to the problems that you face.

It can also help you get buy-in from team members for the solution chosen – after all, they're likely to be more committed to an approach if they were involved in developing it. What's more, because brainstorming is fun, it helps team members bond, as they solve problems in a positive, rewarding environment.

While brainstorming can be effective, it's important to approach it with an open mind and a spirit of non-judgment. If you don't do this, people "clam up," the number and quality of ideas plummets, and morale can suffer.

How to Use the Tool

You often get the best results by combining individual and group brainstorming, which we explain below, and by managing the process according to the "rules" below. By doing this, you can get people to focus on the issue without interruption, you maximize the number of ideas that you can generate, and you get that great feeling of team bonding that comes with a well-run brainstorming session!

To run a group brainstorming session effectively, follow these steps.

Step 1: Prepare the Group

How much information or preparation does your team need in order to brainstorm solutions to your problem? Remember that prep is important, but too much can limit – or even destroy – the freewheeling nature of a brainstorming session.

First, choose an appropriate and comfortable meeting space. This can be in the office, or virtual. Consider what would work best for your team. Make sure you have the right resources beforehand; you can use virtual brainstorming tools like Miro or LucidSpark, and you'll need pens and Post-Its for an in-person session.

Now consider who will attend the meeting. A brainstorming session full of like-minded people won't generate as many creative ideas as a diverse group , so try to include people from a wide range of disciplines, and include people who have a variety of different thinking styles.

When everyone is gathered, appoint one person to record the ideas that come from the session. This person shouldn't necessarily be the team manager – it's hard to record and contribute at the same time. Post notes where everyone can see them, such as on flip charts or whiteboards; or use a computer with a data projector.

If people aren't used to working together, consider using an appropriate warm-up exercise, or an icebreaker .

Step 2: Present the Problem

Clearly define the problem that you want to solve, and lay out any criteria that you must meet. Make it clear that that the meeting's objective is to generate as many ideas as possible.

Give people plenty of quiet time at the start of the session to generate as many of their own ideas as they can. Then, ask them to share or present their ideas, while giving everyone a fair opportunity to contribute.

Step 3: Guide the Discussion

Once everyone has shared their ideas, start a group discussion to develop other people's ideas, and use them to create new ideas. Building on others' ideas is one of the most valuable aspects of group brainstorming.

Encourage everyone to contribute and to develop ideas, including the quietest people, and discourage anyone from criticizing ideas.

As the group facilitator, you should share ideas if you have them, but spend your time and energy supporting your team and guiding the discussion. Stick to one conversation at a time, and refocus the group if people become sidetracked.

Although you're guiding the discussion, remember to let everyone have fun while brainstorming. Welcome creativity, and encourage your team to come up with as many ideas as possible, regardless of whether they're practical or impractical. Use thought experiments such as Provocation to generate some unexpected ideas.

Don't follow one train of thought for too long. Make sure that you generate a good number of different ideas, and explore individual ideas in detail. If a team member needs to "tune out" to explore an idea alone, allow them the freedom to do this.

Also, if the brainstorming session is lengthy, take plenty of breaks so that people can continue to concentrate.

Individual Brainstorming

While group brainstorming is often more effective at generating ideas than normal group problem solving, several studies have shown that individual brainstorming produces more – and often better – ideas than group brainstorming. [3]

This can occur because groups aren't always strict in following the rules of brainstorming, and bad behaviors creep in. Mostly, though, this happens because people pay so much attention to other people that they don't generate ideas of their own – or they forget these ideas while they wait for their turn to speak. This is called "blocking."

When you brainstorm on your own, you don't have to worry about other people's egos or opinions, and you can be freer and more creative. For example, you might find that an idea you'd hesitate to bring up in a group develops into something special when you explore it on your own.

However, you may not develop ideas as fully when you're on your own, because you don't have the wider experience of other group members to draw on.

To get the most out of your individual brainstorming session, choose a comfortable place to sit and think. Minimize distractions so that you can focus on the problem at hand, and consider using Mind Maps to arrange and develop ideas.

Individual brainstorming is most effective when you need to solve a simple problem, generate a list of ideas, or focus on a broad issue. Group brainstorming is often more effective for solving complex problems.

Group Brainstorming

Here, you can take advantage of the full experience and creativity of all team members. When one member gets stuck with an idea, another member's creativity and experience can take the idea to the next stage. You can develop ideas in greater depth with group brainstorming than you can with individual brainstorming.

Another advantage of group brainstorming is that it helps everyone feel that they've contributed to the solution, and it reminds people that others have creative ideas to offer. It's also fun, so it can be great for team building!

Group brainstorming can be risky for individuals. Unusual suggestions may appear to lack value at first sight – this is where you need to chair sessions tightly, so that the group doesn't crush these ideas and stifle creativity.

Where possible, participants should come from a wide range of disciplines. This cross-section of experience can make the session more creative. However, don't make the group too big: as with other types of teamwork, groups of five to seven people are usually most effective.

Other Brainstorming Techniques

If you're not getting enough good quality ideas, try using the approaches below to increase the number of ideas that you generate:

  • The Stepladder Technique – This improves the contribution of quieter group members by introducing one person at a time.
  • Brainwriting – This is a written approach that you can use to encourage all individuals to generate and develop ideas.
  • Online Brainstorming (also known as Brain-netting) – An electronic method of brainstorming, this uses a document stored on a central server, or on a Cloud-based system.
  • Crawford's Slip Writing Approach – You can use this approach to get plenty of ideas from all participants, and to get a view of each idea's popularity.

These techniques help you in specific situations:

  • Reverse Brainstorming – This is used to improve a product or service.
  • Starbursting – Starbursting helps you develop questions that you need to ask to evaluate a proposal.
  • Charette Procedure – This helps you brainstorm with large groups of people. (Conventional brainstorming becomes increasingly ineffective when more than 10 or 12 people are involved.)
  • Round-Robin Brainstorming – You can use this approach to get people to contribute ideas without being influenced by others.
  • Rolestorming – This technique encourages group members to take on other people's identities while brainstorming, thereby reducing their inhibitions.

The Next Step – Taking Action

After your individual or group brainstorming session, you'll have a lot of ideas. Although it might seem hard to sort through these ideas to find the best ones, analyzing these ideas is an important next step, and you can use several tools to do this.

Use Affinity Diagrams to organize ideas and find common themes.

Decision Matrix Analysis and Paired Comparison Analysis will help you choose between different options. You can also use the Six Thinking Hats technique to look at ideas from different perspectives; and the Modified Borda Count and Multi-Voting can help you choose between options as a team, particularly where the differences between options are quite subjective.

When managed well, brainstorming can help you generate radical solutions to problems. It can also encourage people to commit to solutions, because they have provided input and played a role in developing them.

The best approach combines individual and group brainstorming. During the process, there should be no criticism of ideas, and creativity should be encouraged.

[1] Osborn, A. (1953) 'Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem-Solving,' New York: Creative Education Foundation Press.

[2] Diehl, M. and Stroebe, W. (1987) 'Productivity Loss in Brainstorming Groups: Toward the Solution of a Riddle,'  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , Vol. 53, No. 3. 1987. (Available here .)

[3] Lamm, H. and Trommsdorff, G. (1973) 'Group Versus Individual Performance on Tasks Requiring Ideational Proficiency (Brainstorming): A Review,'  European Journal of Social Psychology.  Vol. 3, Issue 4. October/December 1973. (Available  here .)

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brainstorming techniques

When inspiration strikes: 12 effective brainstorming techniques

Lucid Content

Reading time: about 9 min

Are you an effective brainstormer? Does the process of brainstorming feel like an opportunity or more like a chore? Chances are if you don’t enjoy the process of brainstorming, you’ve probably been using the wrong brainstorming technique. 

That’s right—there are distinct brainstorming methods. 

Just as there are different learning styles and different workflow preferences, each of us has a method of brainstorming that works best for us. Whether or not you’re a veteran brainstormer, this article will help you unpack different brainstorming tools, learn the advantages and shortcomings of each, and select a technique for yourself and your team.

12 popular brainstorming methods

summary of brainstorming

Need to take a step back? Learn how to set up a brainstorming session with your team.


When brainwriting, each group member is told to anonymously write down several ideas on post-it notes or index cards. Keeping ideas anonymous serves two important purposes: First, it prevents idea anchoring and any personality bias that may arise. Second, it provides a way for more introverted teammates to still contribute to ideation. 

The result is a broader range of ideas that may not have surfaced if teammates were to brainstorm collectively. Ideas are then shared at random with the rest of the group, who offer feedback and critique each idea. As an alternative, ideas can also be collected and sorted by a team leader or management team. The overlying goal of brainwriting is to separate idea generation from discussion. 

brainwriting example

5 Whys analysis

If you’ve ever been interrogated by a toddler, you know what the 5 Whys might sound like. You give an answer to a question, only for it to be followed by an increasingly urgent series of “Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?”

Truth be told, that toddler is onto something. Created by Taiichi Ohno, the 5 Whys analysis was made popular at Toyota as a standard process for root cause analysis—getting to the heart of a problem.

Less structured than other more traditional problem-solving methods, the 5 Whys is simply what it sounds like: asking why over and over to get to the root of an obstacle or setback. This technique encourages an open dialogue that can trigger new ideas about a problem, whether done individually or with a group. Each why piggybacks off the answer to the previous why.

Both flowcharts and  fishbone diagrams  can help you track your answers to the 5 Whys. 

alt text


Like a reporter trying to discover the pivotal information to a story, the starbursting method of brainstorming requires you to think about the who, what, where, when, why, and how for any new idea.

Place your main idea at the center of a star diagram, labeling each point of the star with those 5WH questions.

Next, develop a series of questions about your idea for each point. Starbursting is popular among brainstorming methods because of its exploratory nature: One question triggers another question, and before you know it, you have the beginnings of a solid strategy within the answers to those questions.

starbursting template

Mind mapping

Part of the challenge of brainstorming is trying to catch every idea swirling through the air. Mind maps are a creative, non-linear diagram used to capture that influx of ideas so you don’t miss anything. Start with a topic or question in the center of the mind map, and branch off to include every participant’s thoughts.

To create your own mind map online, open the template below or browse through our gallery of additional  mind map templates .

sticky note mind map

Rolestorming/figure storming

Sometimes it’s best to consider someone else’s point of view. Considering how someone else might approach a challenge is the central concept behind rolestorming. A related practice, figure storming asks you to put yourself in the shoes of a famous historical figure.

For example, a legal advocacy group might have teammates ask “How would Mahatma Gandhi solve this problem?” Rolestorming has even made its way into pop culture: Anyone who has ever purchased or even seen the popular rubber WWJD (what would Jesus do?) bracelets has witnessed rolestorming in daily life. Rolestorming or figure storming works best for teams who find themselves coming up with the same ideas for repeating projects. 

Gap filling

Gap filling, also known as gap analysis , requires you to identify your current state and your end goal and then find gaps between the two states. It asks the question, “How do we get from here to there?” Gap analysis is especially helpful when it comes to problem solving because it requires you to find workable solutions.

Flowcharts or mind maps can help you grid out your gap analysis. Mark the current state on one end and the ideal state on the other. Then team members will understand what they're working toward and start contributing ideas in the middle to fill the gap.


Brain-netting has become a popular brainstorming technique in the modern workspace, where virtual collaboration and remote teams are much more common. Email communication can be effective but can take too much time and can be more formal than needed. 

With brain-netting, participants use virtual collaboration software to share ideas in real time and can save ideas to a cloud-based storage platform or within the collaboration software itself. The way teams go about virtual collaboration can vary—team leaders may ask a general question like “What do we want our customers to experience?” and have teammates contribute their responses, or teams may engage in other techniques mentioned in this piece including rolestorming, reverse brainstorming, and rapid ideation. 

brainstorming board example

Round robin brainstorming

To engage in this brainstorming technique, begin with having everyone sit in a circle. A team leader or facilitator will then pose a question or offer a request for ideas and have everyone in the circle contribute one by one. 

This strategy is great for middle- to large-sized teams who may have quieter team members or for any team with noticeable imbalance in creative contribution. The most important rule for this technique is to treat all ideas with equal weight—give each teammate the same time and attention as they share, and avoid developing any ideas until everyone has had a chance to contribute. If and when a team member says that “Person X already said my idea,” offer them time to come up with a new idea while completing the round robin. 

Rapid ideation

Operating within a time limitation can often produce higher quality work. Indeed, Parkinson’s Law teaches us that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Rapid ideation uses this phenomenon to its advantage: By setting a time limit on team members to contribute as many ideas or solutions as possible, team managers can maximize productivity and results. 

Rapid ideation works well for a few different types of workers—for teams who dislike meetings, or who tend to get sidetracked, rapid ideation is a great way to approach the brainstorming stage of project execution. 

A helpful tip to remember: Get silly! Research shows that teams who share funny or embarrassing stories about themselves reported 26% more ideas shared across 15% more categories over teams who kept meetings more formal. Having the space to let down certain social barriers reduces overthinking and produces a greater flow of ideas.

Reverse brainstorming

Most brainstorming techniques ask participants to solve a problem. Reverse brainstorming has participants cause a problem. Rather than forming solutions to a problem, reverse brainstorming has a facilitator ask a question like “How can we cause this problem?” Responses are then recorded and used as springboards to ideate a solution by working through the responses backwards. 

Reverse brainstorming is a powerful way to open up new solutions to recurring problems: By challenging participants to work backwards, certain insights that may have been hard to imagine normally become crystal clear from a new perspective. 

Stepladder brainstorming

This interesting style of brainstorming was developed in 1992 and involves teammates sharing their ideas individually before being influenced by the group. 

The process starts with a facilitator posing a question or problem to the entire group and then having almost every group member exit the room, leaving two members present. These remaining two members share their ideas together while the rest of the team waits outside, until the facilitator directs an outside teammate to join the two inside. 

The third and new teammate then shares their idea first, followed by the other two teammates. A fourth group member then enters the room and shares his or her idea first, followed by the other teammates present. The process continues this way until all group members have joined the room and shared their ideas. 

Stepladder brainstorming is noted for solving the problem of groupthink by having participants share ideas individually and without influence from the group. It also allows the more shy group members to contribute without being intimidated by a room full of people.

SWOT analysis

SWOT analysis isn't exclusively a brainstorming technique: It's a strategic planning exercise that you can use to evaluate a product, project, person, or business. However, it may be valuable to focus your brainstorm with this mindset. SWOT stands for:

  • Strengths:  How does the product, project, or business dominate and stand out from its competitors?
  • Weaknesses:  What are the flaws that can hurt or put the product, project, or business in jeopardy?
  • Opportunities:  What opportunities could the business capitalize on?
  • Threats:  What are the possible downfalls lurking for the product, project, or business?

Spend some time in each category and add your teammates' thoughts onto a SWOT matrix.

SWOT analysis example

Choose a brainstorm method and get started

Once you’ve selected your brainstorming technique or techniques, it’s time to get to work. Remember: The first rule of brainstorming is quantity over quality. Encouraging teammates to have the bravery to risk imperfection and contribute ideas is the best way to guide your team toward new ways to approach problems—and often leads to powerful insights. 

All these methods can be combined with others, giving you an endless arsenal of brainstorming techniques to continue ideating efficiently. 

See our 7 tips for starting a brainstorming meeting with your team.

Lucidchart, a cloud-based intelligent diagramming application, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This intuitive, cloud-based solution empowers teams to collaborate in real-time to build flowcharts, mockups, UML diagrams, customer journey maps, and more. Lucidchart propels teams forward to build the future faster. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucidchart.com.

Bring your bright ideas to life.

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The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


What this handout is about.

This handout discusses techniques that will help you start writing a paper and continue writing through the challenges of the revising process. Brainstorming can help you choose a topic, develop an approach to a topic, or deepen your understanding of the topic’s potential.


If you consciously take advantage of your natural thinking processes by gathering your brain’s energies into a “storm,” you can transform these energies into written words or diagrams that will lead to lively, vibrant writing. Below you will find a brief discussion of what brainstorming is, why you might brainstorm, and suggestions for how you might brainstorm.

Whether you are starting with too much information or not enough, brainstorming can help you to put a new writing task in motion or revive a project that hasn’t reached completion. Let’s take a look at each case:

When you’ve got nothing: You might need a storm to approach when you feel “blank” about the topic, devoid of inspiration, full of anxiety about the topic, or just too tired to craft an orderly outline. In this case, brainstorming stirs up the dust, whips some air into our stilled pools of thought, and gets the breeze of inspiration moving again.

When you’ve got too much: There are times when you have too much chaos in your brain and need to bring in some conscious order. In this case, brainstorming forces the mental chaos and random thoughts to rain out onto the page, giving you some concrete words or schemas that you can then arrange according to their logical relations.

Brainstorming techniques

What follows are great ideas on how to brainstorm—ideas from professional writers, novice writers, people who would rather avoid writing, and people who spend a lot of time brainstorming about…well, how to brainstorm.

Try out several of these options and challenge yourself to vary the techniques you rely on; some techniques might suit a particular writer, academic discipline, or assignment better than others. If the technique you try first doesn’t seem to help you, move right along and try some others.


When you freewrite, you let your thoughts flow as they will, putting pen to paper and writing down whatever comes into your mind. You don’t judge the quality of what you write and you don’t worry about style or any surface-level issues, like spelling, grammar, or punctuation. If you can’t think of what to say, you write that down—really. The advantage of this technique is that you free up your internal critic and allow yourself to write things you might not write if you were being too self-conscious.

When you freewrite you can set a time limit (“I’ll write for 15 minutes!”) and even use a kitchen timer or alarm clock or you can set a space limit (“I’ll write until I fill four full notebook pages, no matter what tries to interrupt me!”) and just write until you reach that goal. You might do this on the computer or on paper, and you can even try it with your eyes shut or the monitor off, which encourages speed and freedom of thought.

The crucial point is that you keep on writing even if you believe you are saying nothing. Word must follow word, no matter the relevance. Your freewriting might even look like this:

“This paper is supposed to be on the politics of tobacco production but even though I went to all the lectures and read the book I can’t think of what to say and I’ve felt this way for four minutes now and I have 11 minutes left and I wonder if I’ll keep thinking nothing during every minute but I’m not sure if it matters that I am babbling and I don’t know what else to say about this topic and it is rainy today and I never noticed the number of cracks in that wall before and those cracks remind me of the walls in my grandfather’s study and he smoked and he farmed and I wonder why he didn’t farm tobacco…”

When you’re done with your set number of minutes or have reached your page goal, read back over the text. Yes, there will be a lot of filler and unusable thoughts but there also will be little gems, discoveries, and insights. When you find these gems, highlight them or cut and paste them into your draft or onto an “ideas” sheet so you can use them in your paper. Even if you don’t find any diamonds in there, you will have either quieted some of the noisy chaos or greased the writing gears so that you can now face the assigned paper topic.

Break down the topic into levels

Once you have a course assignment in front of you, you might brainstorm:

  • the general topic, like “The relationship between tropical fruits and colonial powers”
  • a specific subtopic or required question, like “How did the availability of multiple tropical fruits influence competition amongst colonial powers trading from the larger Caribbean islands during the 19th century?”
  • a single term or phrase that you sense you’re overusing in the paper. For example: If you see that you’ve written “increased the competition” about a dozen times in your “tropical fruits” paper, you could brainstorm variations on the phrase itself or on each of the main terms: “increased” and “competition.”


In this technique you jot down lists of words or phrases under a particular topic. You can base your list on:

  • the general topic
  • one or more words from your particular thesis claim
  • a word or idea that is the complete opposite of your original word or idea.

For example, if your general assignment is to write about the changes in inventions over time, and your specific thesis claims that “the 20th century presented a large number of inventions to advance US society by improving upon the status of 19th-century society,” you could brainstorm two different lists to ensure you are covering the topic thoroughly and that your thesis will be easy to prove.

The first list might be based on your thesis; you would jot down as many 20th-century inventions as you could, as long as you know of their positive effects on society. The second list might be based on the opposite claim, and you would instead jot down inventions that you associate with a decline in that society’s quality. You could do the same two lists for 19th-century inventions and then compare the evidence from all four lists.

Using multiple lists will help you to gather more perspective on the topic and ensure that, sure enough, your thesis is solid as a rock, or, …uh oh, your thesis is full of holes and you’d better alter your claim to one you can prove.

3 perspectives

Looking at something from different perspectives helps you see it more completely—or at least in a completely different way, sort of like laying on the floor makes your desk look very different to you. To use this strategy, answer the questions for each of the three perspectives, then look for interesting relationships or mismatches you can explore:

  • Describe it: Describe your subject in detail. What is your topic? What are its components? What are its interesting and distinguishing features? What are its puzzles? Distinguish your subject from those that are similar to it. How is your subject unlike others?
  • Trace it: What is the history of your subject? How has it changed over time? Why? What are the significant events that have influenced your subject?
  • Map it: What is your subject related to? What is it influenced by? How? What does it influence? How? Who has a stake in your topic? Why? What fields do you draw on for the study of your subject? Why? How has your subject been approached by others? How is their work related to yours?

Cubing enables you to consider your topic from six different directions; just as a cube is six-sided, your cubing brainstorming will result in six “sides” or approaches to the topic. Take a sheet of paper, consider your topic, and respond to these six commands:

  • Describe it.
  • Compare it.
  • Associate it.
  • Analyze it.
  • Argue for and against it.

Look over what you’ve written. Do any of the responses suggest anything new about your topic? What interactions do you notice among the “sides”? That is, do you see patterns repeating, or a theme emerging that you could use to approach the topic or draft a thesis? Does one side seem particularly fruitful in getting your brain moving? Could that one side help you draft your thesis statement? Use this technique in a way that serves your topic. It should, at least, give you a broader awareness of the topic’s complexities, if not a sharper focus on what you will do with it.

In this technique, complete the following sentence:

____________________ is/was/are/were like _____________________.

In the first blank put one of the terms or concepts your paper centers on. Then try to brainstorm as many answers as possible for the second blank, writing them down as you come up with them.

After you have produced a list of options, look over your ideas. What kinds of ideas come forward? What patterns or associations do you find?


The general idea:

This technique has three (or more) different names, according to how you describe the activity itself or what the end product looks like. In short, you will write a lot of different terms and phrases onto a sheet of paper in a random fashion and later go back to link the words together into a sort of “map” or “web” that forms groups from the separate parts. Allow yourself to start with chaos. After the chaos subsides, you will be able to create some order out of it.

To really let yourself go in this brainstorming technique, use a large piece of paper or tape two pieces together. You could also use a blackboard if you are working with a group of people. This big vertical space allows all members room to “storm” at the same time, but you might have to copy down the results onto paper later. If you don’t have big paper at the moment, don’t worry. You can do this on an 8 ½ by 11 as well. Watch our short videos on webbing , drawing relationships , and color coding for demonstrations.

How to do it:

  • Take your sheet(s) of paper and write your main topic in the center, using a word or two or three.
  • Moving out from the center and filling in the open space any way you are driven to fill it, start to write down, fast, as many related concepts or terms as you can associate with the central topic. Jot them quickly, move into another space, jot some more down, move to another blank, and just keep moving around and jotting. If you run out of similar concepts, jot down opposites, jot down things that are only slightly related, or jot down your grandpa’s name, but try to keep moving and associating. Don’t worry about the (lack of) sense of what you write, for you can chose to keep or toss out these ideas when the activity is over.
  • Once the storm has subsided and you are faced with a hail of terms and phrases, you can start to cluster. Circle terms that seem related and then draw a line connecting the circles. Find some more and circle them and draw more lines to connect them with what you think is closely related. When you run out of terms that associate, start with another term. Look for concepts and terms that might relate to that term. Circle them and then link them with a connecting line. Continue this process until you have found all the associated terms. Some of the terms might end up uncircled, but these “loners” can also be useful to you. (Note: You can use different colored pens/pencils/chalk for this part, if you like. If that’s not possible, try to vary the kind of line you use to encircle the topics; use a wavy line, a straight line, a dashed line, a dotted line, a zigzaggy line, etc. in order to see what goes with what.)
  • There! When you stand back and survey your work, you should see a set of clusters, or a big web, or a sort of map: hence the names for this activity. At this point you can start to form conclusions about how to approach your topic. There are about as many possible results to this activity as there are stars in the night sky, so what you do from here will depend on your particular results. Let’s take an example or two in order to illustrate how you might form some logical relationships between the clusters and loners you’ve decided to keep. At the end of the day, what you do with the particular “map” or “cluster set” or “web” that you produce depends on what you need. What does this map or web tell you to do? Explore an option or two and get your draft going!

Relationship between the parts

In this technique, begin by writing the following pairs of terms on opposite margins of one sheet of paper:

Looking over these four groups of pairs, start to fill in your ideas below each heading. Keep going down through as many levels as you can. Now, look at the various parts that comprise the parts of your whole concept. What sorts of conclusions can you draw according to the patterns, or lack of patterns, that you see? For a related strategy, watch our short video on drawing relationships .

Journalistic questions

In this technique you would use the “big six” questions that journalists rely on to thoroughly research a story. The six are: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, and How?. Write each question word on a sheet of paper, leaving space between them. Then, write out some sentences or phrases in answer, as they fit your particular topic. You might also record yourself or use speech-to-text if you’d rather talk out your ideas.

Now look over your batch of responses. Do you see that you have more to say about one or two of the questions? Or, are your answers for each question pretty well balanced in depth and content? Was there one question that you had absolutely no answer for? How might this awareness help you to decide how to frame your thesis claim or to organize your paper? Or, how might it reveal what you must work on further, doing library research or interviews or further note-taking?

For example, if your answers reveal that you know a lot more about “where” and “why” something happened than you know about “what” and “when,” how could you use this lack of balance to direct your research or to shape your paper? How might you organize your paper so that it emphasizes the known versus the unknown aspects of evidence in the field of study? What else might you do with your results?

Thinking outside the box

Even when you are writing within a particular academic discipline, you can take advantage of your semesters of experience in other courses from other departments. Let’s say you are writing a paper for an English course. You could ask yourself, “Hmmm, if I were writing about this very same topic in a biology course or using this term in a history course, how might I see or understand it differently? Are there varying definitions for this concept within, say, philosophy or physics, that might encourage me to think about this term from a new, richer point of view?”

For example, when discussing “culture” in your English, communications, or cultural studies course, you could incorporate the definition of “culture” that is frequently used in the biological sciences. Remember those little Petri dishes from your lab experiments in high school? Those dishes are used to “culture” substances for bacterial growth and analysis, right? How might it help you write your paper if you thought of “culture” as a medium upon which certain things will grow, will develop in new ways or will even flourish beyond expectations, but upon which the growth of other things might be retarded, significantly altered, or stopped altogether?

Using charts or shapes

If you are more visually inclined, you might create charts, graphs, or tables in lieu of word lists or phrases as you try to shape or explore an idea. You could use the same phrases or words that are central to your topic and try different ways to arrange them spatially, say in a graph, on a grid, or in a table or chart. You might even try the trusty old flow chart. The important thing here is to get out of the realm of words alone and see how different spatial representations might help you see the relationships among your ideas. If you can’t imagine the shape of a chart at first, just put down the words on the page and then draw lines between or around them. Or think of a shape. Do your ideas most easily form a triangle? square? umbrella? Can you put some ideas in parallel formation? In a line?

Consider purpose and audience

Think about the parts of communication involved in any writing or speaking act: purpose and audience.

What is your purpose?

What are you trying to do? What verb captures your intent? Are you trying to inform? Convince? Describe? Each purpose will lead you to a different set of information and help you shape material to include and exclude in a draft. Write about why you are writing this draft in this form. For more tips on figuring out the purpose of your assignment, see our handout on understanding assignments .

Who is your audience?

Who are you communicating with beyond the grader? What does that audience need to know? What do they already know? What information does that audience need first, second, third? Write about who you are writing to and what they need. For more on audience, see our  handout on audience .

Dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias

When all else fails…this is a tried and true method, loved for centuries by writers of all stripe. Visit the library reference areas or stop by the Writing Center to browse various dictionaries, thesauruses (or other guide books and reference texts), encyclopedias or surf their online counterparts. Sometimes these basic steps are the best ones. It is almost guaranteed that you’ll learn several things you did not know.

If you’re looking at a hard copy reference, turn to your most important terms and see what sort of variety you find in the definitions. The obscure or archaic definition might help you to appreciate the term’s breadth or realize how much its meaning has changed as the language changed. Could that realization be built into your paper somehow?

If you go to online sources, use their own search functions to find your key terms and see what suggestions they offer. For example, if you plug “good” into a thesaurus search, you will be given 14 different entries. Whew! If you were analyzing the film Good Will Hunting, imagine how you could enrich your paper by addressed the six or seven ways that “good” could be interpreted according to how the scenes, lighting, editing, music, etc., emphasized various aspects of “good.”

An encyclopedia is sometimes a valuable resource if you need to clarify facts, get quick background, or get a broader context for an event or item. If you are stuck because you have a vague sense of a seemingly important issue, do a quick check with this reference and you may be able to move forward with your ideas.

Armed with a full quiver of brainstorming techniques and facing sheets of jotted ideas, bulleted subtopics, or spidery webs relating to your paper, what do you do now?

Take the next step and start to write your first draft, or fill in those gaps you’ve been brainstorming about to complete your “almost ready” paper. If you’re a fan of outlining, prepare one that incorporates as much of your brainstorming data as seems logical to you. If you’re not a fan, don’t make one. Instead, start to write out some larger chunks (large groups of sentences or full paragraphs) to expand upon your smaller clusters and phrases. Keep building from there into larger sections of your paper. You don’t have to start at the beginning of the draft. Start writing the section that comes together most easily. You can always go back to write the introduction later.

We also have helpful handouts on some of the next steps in your writing process, such as reorganizing drafts and argument .

Remember, once you’ve begun the paper, you can stop and try another brainstorming technique whenever you feel stuck. Keep the energy moving and try several techniques to find what suits you or the particular project you are working on.

How can technology help?

Need some help brainstorming? Different digital tools can help with a variety of brainstorming strategies:

Look for a text editor that has a focus mode or that is designed to promote free writing (for examples, check out FocusWriter, OmmWriter, WriteRoom, Writer the Internet Typewriter, or Cold Turkey). Eliminating visual distractions on your screen can help you free write for designated periods of time. By eliminating visual distractions on your screen, these tools help you focus on free writing for designated periods of time. If you use Microsoft Word, you might even try “Focus Mode” under the “View” tab.

Clustering/mapping. Websites and applications like Mindomo , TheBrain , and Miro allow you to create concept maps and graphic organizers. These applications often include the following features:

  • Connect links, embed documents and media, and integrate notes in your concept maps
  • Access your maps across devices
  • Search across maps for keywords
  • Convert maps into checklists and outlines
  • Export maps to other file formats


Check out what other students and writers have tried!

Papers as Puzzles : A UNC student demonstrates a brainstorming strategy for getting started on a paper.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Allen, Roberta, and Marcia Mascolini. 1997. The Process of Writing: Composing Through Critical Thinking . Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Cameron, Julia. 2002. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity . New York: Putnam.

Goldberg, Natalie. 2005. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within , rev. ed. Boston: Shambhala.

Rosen, Leonard J. and Laurence Behrens. 2003. The Allyn & Bacon Handbook , 5th ed. New York: Longman.

University of Richmond. n.d. “Main Page.” Writer’s Web. Accessed June 14, 2019. http://writing2.richmond.edu/writing/wweb.html .

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

7 ground rules for brainstorming

A team working collaboratively in front of a whiteboard

Follow these guidelines to make your brainstorming sessions more engaging and impactful

Everyone knows the term ‘brainstorming.’ The premise is fairly simple: You gather stakeholders and conduct a meeting where everyone shares their ideas. But in practice, group brainstorming sessions can have the same problems as traditional meetings.

Not all brainstorming sessions will need a set of ground rules to be successful, it can make the brainstorming process easier. Having a set of ground rules can help set expectations, improve team building, and help participants feel more comfortable.

You may want to implement different rules based on specific group needs or go without rules brainstorming altogether. However, the suggested rules outlined in this article provide some helpful guidelines that facilitate a more effective brainstorming experience.

Why you should establish rules for a brainstorming session

While a brainstorming session can be successful without setting up rules or a code of conduct, establishing a set of norms can help make the session go more smoothly. Here are some added benefits of using rules during a brainstorming activity:

Set expectations

By setting some rules of brainstorming, you help participants know how the session will be run and which customs are allowed. How are ideas collected and prioritized? Are all ideas welcome? What boundaries, if any, should exist? Setting some expectations will help inform participants about what norms should be followed throughout the workshop.

Prevent conflict and improve team building

Is it okay to evaluate ideas right away, or should comments be held until the end of ideation? Set some guidelines around how ideas will be evaluated so participants don’t accidentally end up feeling shut down or hurt during the brainstorming phase.

Setting up a few norms for the brainstorming session will help participants focus on building upon each other’s ideas instead of competing to have the “best” idea.

Help participants feel comfortable

Sharing ideas can feel very personal, so it’s important you establish an environment of psychological safety to help more ideas flow freely. Treating ideas with respect can go a long way in making participants feel like they can share all their ideas, not just the ones that will be received better in the group.

Whether you're a facilitator for a formal group brainstorm , or just looking for tips to conduct an informal brainstorming session, here are our 7 recommended rules for better brainstorming.

7 rules for effective brainstorming

1. accept all the creative and wild ideas.

Brainstorming is all about new idea generation. If your participants are only comfortable with providing safe answers, the ideas at the end of the session will likely be more generic. Encouraging wild ideas will help engage creative problem-solving and enable participants to think outside the box .

Need some inspiration? Try asking these 25 questions for effective brainstorming .

2. Build on other participants’ ideas

 Encourage participants to put a spin on or build upon the ideas from other participants. This may not only reduce the pressure on participants to have a fully-developed idea, but also helps encourage collaboration among the brainstorming group.

One way to integrate this concept into your brainstorming and ideation session is to use the round-robin exercise . This brainstorming technique is run by dividing your team into small groups, and having each person pass their ideas along to the following teammate, who then offers counterpoints or further suggestions, helping identify potential weaknesses or spurring innovation within the session.

The Mural Round Robin Template by the LUMA Institute

3. Use an asynchronous or private component

As a means to avoid group conformity, group brainstorming sessions should either involve individual preparation or private contributions to a project at the outset. If you know your topic and stakeholders, you can give everyone time before the meeting to brainstorm individually, and then bring their suggestions to the wider group for discussion and refinement.

This group brainstorming template is structured so you can generate creative ideas privately on your own, then come together again to share, discuss, and sort through everyone's ideas. It even includes some helpful rules for brainstorming to introduce at the beginning of the session.

The Mural Conducting a Brainstorming Template by Meta Think Kit

Alternatively, if you don’t have the luxury of pre-work, you can use a platform like Mural to collect ideas in real time while avoiding groupthink through Private Mode . This allows each person in the brainstorming session to think independently and not be influenced by other ideas from the group, but stay within the context of the individual session.

4. Don't criticize other collaborators' ideas

Brainstorming is impossible without mutual respect—teams need to be comfortable speaking their minds and taking risks. As we’ve noted in our article on psychological safety , just like trust, “psychological safety is fragile: it builds slowly, but breaks down very quickly.” Be sure to remind your brainstorming collaborators that there are no bad ideas.

Being intentional about establishing an environment where everyone feels comfortable contributing and that their voice is heard is key. But how can you create such an environment?

When thinking about the circumstances of your brainstorming session, consider these elements:

  • If your brainstorming session is synchronous, make sure that you schedule it at a time that fits all your stakeholders’ working hours. If there is no way to avoid a difficult time for some team members, reach out and ask if that is acceptable before scheduling the meeting.
  • If you’re meeting with a large number of people, that alone can be intimidating, especially in a virtual setting where people may not know one another. In these cases, breaking down into smaller discussion groups can foster better participation.
  • Defer judgment and ask for clarification of a teammate’s ideas before challenging them in front of the group.
  • Remind everyone that disagreement is fine, so long as it is respectful. (Chances are, if everyone completely agrees, it hasn’t been a very productive session.)

5. Aim for quantity over quality

At this stage, you may not even know what ‘quality’ means for your topic, so collect as many ideas as you can. Getting past the desire to self-edit is essential in brainstorming — sometimes what you might think is the most outlandish suggestion will lead to the best possible solution. Give your ideas a chance to shine, and ensure that everyone contributes to the session.

Some things to consider:

  • Use a common turn-taking approach to make sure everyone has a chance to speak. This can be something predetermined or flexible, like ‘pass the ball.’
  • Record every idea so that none of your work is lost — what may not seem as compelling at the outset might become the idea that is central to your work later on, so don’t lose it.
Protip: Using a shared digital space like Mural helps facilitate group engagement and provides a single source of truth for later analysis once your brainstorming session is over.

6. Make the brainstorming session visual

Giving your team visual tools to express themselves expands everyone’s ability to generate lots of ideas, levels the playing field, and helps foster understanding.

During your brainstorming session, you’ll likely encounter ideas that fall under consistent themes — using a visual platform or an online whiteboard helps you quickly and easily organize and categorize ideas, making the path forward clear.

Using a visual tool during ideation also removes the ‘loudest person in the room’ problem because everyone’s ideas are represented in the same way. This helps level the playing field so one person doesn’t end up contributing more than the next. Additionally, participants can easily add new ideas to the digital canvas when they have them.

Note: We also recommend using a visual tool during any virtual brainstorming activity .

7. Make the brainstorm collaborative and fun

While it’s easy to give over to worries about groupthink impeding ideation, let’s not forget that the primary goal of group brainstorming is to collaborate and create something together.

These valuable sessions are opportunities to build on one another’s ideas and create a shared vision for next steps. With the right preparation, mindset, and environment (as well as the right tools), brainstorming should be fun. It’s a way to not only collectively solve hard problems, but also get to know one another better and appreciate the unique value that each teammate brings to the table.

Related: 7 brainstorming techniques for developing new ideas

Use these tips for better brainstorming

Brainstorming is something that is commonly known but less commonly understood. It’s important to have an intentional approach to every part of your brainstorming session so that you can encourage creative thinking, set your team up for success, and get the results you need to create actionable next steps.

To run your most effective (and enjoyable) brainstorming session yet, follow these guidelines:

  • Accept all the wild and creative ideas
  • Use asynchronous (or pre-work) or private work to allow for individual brainstorming and avoid groupthink
  • Build on other team member's ideas
  • Don't criticize others' ideas
  • Focus on quantity, not quality
  • Make it visual
  • Make it collaborative (and fun)

More resources for successful brainstorming sessions

Whether you’re looking to gather ideas asynchronously from your distributed team, or working in real-time to collaboratively craft solutions for your company, Mural makes it easy to capture and organize your ideas so that you can create concrete next steps. Every mural is a record of your brainstorming that can be referenced later, and tools like tags for sticky notes and color coding make it easy to categorize ideas based on themes.

Get started with a Free Forever account today, and invite unlimited guests.

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

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Brainstorming: 24 Techniques for Effective Brainstorming [+ How-to]

Home » Brainstorming   | 🕑 

summary of brainstorming

Gust de Backer

November 11, 2023.


Every company does brainstorming , but some companies are better at it than others….

So why is that?

I’m going to show you:

  • What different brainstorming techniques there are.
  • How to prioritize brainstorm ideas.
  • And how to be creative during your brainstorming sessions.

Let’s start..

Table of Contents

What is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a technique for working with a group to find creative ideas for a specific problem.

In short, brainstorming is a method to creatively solve a problem . In this, it is important that everyone has a good understanding of what the problem is in order for people to brainstorm accurate solutions.

Do’s and don’ts

Why is brainstorming important.

Creative thinking shows us that there are multiple solutions to a problem and multiple ways to look at a problem.

People are often stuck in their ways of thinking because of the patterns they see, which is extremely bad for innovation.

Creative thinking helps to challenge our assumptions, discover new things, see from new perspectives and keep us mentally sharp.

24 brainstorming techniques

Brainstorming is not about the quality, but about the quantity of ideas.

You’re going to come up with as many ideas for a problem as possible, possibly with a group of people, for a set amount of time.

There are 24 methods you can use to make brainstorming more effective:

1. Brainwriting / Purge

Each member of the group has a certain amount of time to write down all his/her ideas. This has two main advantages:

  • Introverts get a chance to share their ideas.
  • It ensures that no one or two ideas dominate the brainstorming.

The result is a wide range of ideas that would not have surfaced if a few ideas had been discussed from the beginning.

2. The 5 Why’s Analysis

The 5 why’s analysis has become popular because Toyota used it as a standard process for root-cause analysis.

By asking “why?” 5 times in response to an answer you will get to the root of the problem or solution which allows for a broader perspective and better dialogue.

3. Starbursting

The starbursting technique pushes you to think about the who, what, where, when, why and how of an idea. Place your idea or problem in the center of the star diagram and at the ends put the questions:


4. Mind mapping

You place your problem or idea in the center of the board and start adding to it with new parts:


This also directly ensures that there is structure and that everything is broken down into certain topics.

5. Rolestorming

Try to imagine yourself as another person, it may be someone familiar or someone you know from your immediate environment.

If you can imagine yourself to be another person, ask yourself again how that would solve your problem?

6. Gap filling

See what situation you are in now (ready state) and see where you want to go (target state). Then ask yourself the question, how do we go from the ready state to the target state? What is needed for that?

The gap filling way is a good brainstorming technique to get from A to B.

7. Brain-netting

Using online software, write down ideas that belong to a particular problem or issue.

This is especially useful in preparation for a brainstorm so that people have enough time in advance to think about possible solutions without a lot of email traffic.

8. Round robin brainstorming

In round robin brainstorming, there is one person responsible for bringing up a question or several questions…

In this process, everyone must answer one at a time. In doing so, no feedback may be given or a second idea shared until everyone has shared his or her idea.

This brainstorming technique is ideal for medium to large teams where there are introverted team members or where there is a poor balance of creative input.

Tip : If someone shares an idea that has already been, give that person time to come up with a new idea.

9. Rapid ideation

Parkinson’s law shows us that we spend as much time on our work as we have available

Putting a time limit on brainstorming can increase the quality of the brainstorm. This allows team managers to maximize productivity and results.

Especially for teams with little time, who have little desire for meetings, or who are easily distracted, Rapid Ideation can be a good brainstorming technique.

10. Reverse brainstorming

Brainstorming sessions are often aimed at solving a problem. Reverse brainstorming sessions are aimed at causing problems.

Instead of asking “how can we solve this problem?” you ask “how can we make [problem] happen? From the answers you get, you can start to find solutions to possible problems that a concept or idea might pose.

Thinking of problems first ensures that the team then has a better perspective in solving the problems.

11. Stepladder brainstorming

In stepladder brainstorming, a problem is presented to the group where all but one or two people must leave the room….

The one or two people must then share their ideas after which a third person may enter the room to share his or her ideas, then a fourth, then a fifth and that until everyone has been.

The advantage to this brainstorming technique is that it does not involve thinking as a group, but allows everyone to share their own individual unique ideas without being influenced by the group.

12. SWOT Analysis

A SWOT analysis is not directly a brainstorming technique, but it can provide additional perspective during brainstorming.

SWOT stands for:

  • Strengths : what are the strengths?
  • Weaknesses : what are the weaknesses?
  • Opportunities : where do the opportunities lie?
  • Threats : what are the threats?

The SWOT analysis can also be the basis of brainstorming on how to assess a concept.

13. Eidetic image method

In the Eidetic image method, the group starts by closing their eyes to illustrate the current product in their minds…

Then they can start discussing what it looks like, close their eyes again and start visualizing what an improved version would look like, what features it would contain, what color it is, how big it is, etc.

This brainstorming technique works best when improving an existing product or solution.

14. Change of scenery

If you are constantly brainstorming with the same people in the same space, it can feel like repetition, which is obviously not good for inspiration.

By regularly changing the scenery or space and perhaps also the team composition, it is possible to tap into new sources of inspiration.

15. Drivers analysis

In the drivers analysis brainstorming technique, you focus on the causes of a problem.

Ask yourself or your team of brainstormers, “What causes [problem]?” and then “What causes [answer previous question]?

The deeper you can go the more likely you are to find the root of a problem.

16. Collaborative brainwriting

With this method of brainstorming, there is no need to dedicate a specific session to it….

For example, a facilitator hangs up a large sheet in an office with a problem-statement and possibly already some brainstorming ideas and everyone can contribute ideas in his or her own time.

This way everyone can contribute anonymously, just make sure it is clear to everyone when the deadline is to contribute.


The SCAMPER brainstorming technique helps brainstormers look at a problem from multiple perspectives, SCAMPER is an acronym that stands for:

  • Substitute : evaluate what would happen if you swapped one facet or solution for another.
  • Combine : evaluate what would happen if you combined one facet or solution with another.
  • Adapt : assess what would happen if you placed one idea or solution in a different context.
  • Modify : think about how you could change an idea or solution to make even more impact.
  • Put to another use : think about how you could still use your idea in other ways.
  • Eliminate : assess what can be removed from your idea or solution to make it simpler.
  • Reverse effective : finally, you can look at how you can reorganize an idea to make it more effective.

During a brainstorm, it is helpful to use a SCAMPER template:

SCAMPER brainstorm template

18. The idea napkin

The Idea Napkin brainstorming technique allows a broad topic to be broken down into tangible solutions.

Each brainstormer has an ‘Idea Napkin’, on which they write one idea and an elevator pitch of that idea. They also write down who they are trying to solve a problem for and what problem they are solving.

When everything is written down, the idea is for everyone to present their ‘Idea Napkin’ to the others, then all ideas are prioritized on an impact and effort matrix to determine which ideas are worthwhile:

Idea Napkin brainstorm

19. 6 thinking hats

In the 6 thinking hats brainstorming technique, you need at least 6 people who are going to wear thinking hats. These different ‘thinking hats’ are going to allow them to look at a problem or idea from one specific angle.

There are 6 different thinking hats:

  • Blue hat (Conductor’s hat) : manage the decision process, ask for summaries and come to conclusions.
  • Green hat (Creative hat) : the green hat comes up with creative ideas and thinks in terms of possibilities.
  • Red hat (Hat for the heart) : go out of your feeling and instinct, you don’t necessarily have to think logically.
  • Yellow hat (Optimist’s hat) : with the yellow hat you look at problems with an optimistic view, you see advantages in everything.
  • Black hat (Judge’s hat) : the black hat is very critical and sees problems in everything, it is important to see risks and dangers quickly.
  • White hat (Fact hat) : neutral and objective, shares lots of statistics and facts.
  • + Royal hat (Owner hat) : guides the brainstorm, is looking for the balance between subjectivity and objectivity.

This brainstorming technique is useful to get an overall picture of one or more ideas.

20. ‘What if’ brainstorming

The ‘What if’ brainstorming technique is a good technique to bring out all possible solutions to a problem.

By asking questions like “What if this problem occurred in the 1800s?” or “What if our president would have to solve this issue?”.

By approaching it this way you can look at the problem and the solutions from different angles.

21. Random word picker

You pick a random word or animal and start brainstorming about how the word or the characteristics of the animal can help you solve your problem.

This brainstorming technique is really about getting new ideas in a creative way.

22. Storyboarding

Storyboarding is a brainstorming technique where you start sketching the problem and possible solutions. In doing so, you are going to visualize different parts of the problem and the solution which works extremely well for physical challenges.

23. Wishing

You start by wishing for something ‘I wish our company would make 10 million euros in profit’ and then you start thinking about how you can achieve this.

Try to set really ambitious goals, this ensures that you start thinking bigger and you will encounter other problems and solutions.

24. Crazy eights

In the crazy eights brainstorming technique, each participant is given a template with 8 empty boxes. The timer is set for 8 minutes during which time each participant must fill the boxes with 8 sketches of possible ideas. Repeat this process so that they can build on each other’s ideas.

How do you prioritize ideas?

There are several ways to prioritize ideas:

1. Dotmocracy

To prioritize ideas, it is possible to give all participants X number of stickers that they can divide on the ideas they have.

You can be creative with this by handing out different colored stickers to also vote on ideas that absolutely should not be implemented or perhaps an order in the ideas based on the colors.

2. How Now Wow

The How Now Wow technique is more about categorizing ideas based on how unique they are and how easy they are to accomplish.

After a team has written down ideas, they can be prioritized in the How Now Wow matrix:

How Now Wow

  • How ideas : original but difficult to implement.
  • Now ideas : unoriginal and easy to execute.
  • Wow ideas : unique ideas that are easy to execute.

Obviously, you want to have as many “Wow” ideas as possible because they are unique from the competition.

3. Impact-Effort Matrix

The impact-effort matrix allows you to determine the ratio of effort to results and then prioritize the best ideas:

Impact Effort Matrix

You can write down where an idea belongs on the matrix or you can give points to ideas and use those points to determine where an idea will be placed.

4. I.C.E. / P.I.E.

ICE and PIE are well-known prioritization frameworks; they are acronyms that stand for…

  • Impact : what is the potential impact if the idea works?
  • Confidence : how confident are we that the idea will work?
  • Ease : how easy is it to set up this idea?
  • Potential : how potential is this solution to our problem?
  • Importance : how important do we think solving this problem is?
  • Ease : how easy is it to implement this solution?

From these scores you can get an average, it is also possible to add a multiplier to certain parts of ICE or PIE that you think are important.

5. Feasibility, Desirability and Viability Scorecard

These 3 pillars are topics on which you can rank an idea:

  • Feasibility : is it actually achievable?
  • Desirability : how much would we like this solution?
  • Viability : how confident are we that this will work?

This is very similar to the ICE / PIE framework, but the questioning changes a little bit.

MoSCoW is a very well known prioritization framework, it is widely used to set up requirements for a particular thing and prioritize them.

MoSCoW is an acronym that stands for:

  • Must have : What really needs to be in it?
  • Should have : what should actually be included?
  • Could have : nice to have, is nice to add, but has no priority.
  • Would have / Will not have : we’re not going to do anything with this for now.

7. Multi-criteria Decision Making

In multi-criteria decision making, you write down what you think is important about a solution and prioritize different ideas based on that:

8. The Value Matrix

Also called the Value and Effort matrix, this involves weighing the costs against the benefits:

The Value Matrix

How to brainstorm effectively?

How do you set up the brainstorm effectively?

The better the problem statement is the better the brainstorming will go. It is easier to focus ideas on a situation when that situation is enormously clear.

By just starting to do anything you will probably not find the desired solution. Make sure you have a clear agenda with times when you want to do something exactly. It is also important to make clear in advance what the desired end result of the brainstorm is.

Each brainstorming technique fits a different type of situation, evaluate which brainstorming techniques exist and choose some to come up with solutions from multiple angles.

By just talking and thinking about ideas a lot will be lost, document the ideas so they can be looked back at later.

Not every idea has the same potential to be used, therefore it is important to choose which ideas can be taken up, which ones will be interesting at a later date and which ones can be thrown in the garbage can.

Make sure you have time available in the coming period to start working on good ideas.

What is creativity in brainstorming?

Creativity is the ability to think outside of traditional ways and come up with new, original ideas, methods or objects.

It is often thought that the left part of the brain is for creativity and that the right part of the brain contains analytical ability:

3 types of brains

In creativity, it is about the networks between the different parts in the brain. There are 3 types of networks that are important here:

  • The executive attention network : allows you to maintain your attention and focus.
  • The imagination network : allows you to daydream or imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes.
  • The salience network : allows you to identify certain things based on old information stored in your brain.

A video that goes into some detail here:

What types of creative thinking are there?

At work, there are several types of creative thinking you may encounter:

  • Divergent Thinking : a brainstorming session where you write down as many solutions as you can think of.
  • Convergent Thinking : gathering facts and finding the most used and complete solution to the problem.
  • Inspirational Thinking : focus on the best-case scenario to find a new solution to a problem.
  • Lateral Thinking : reorganize information to come up with creative solutions to move from the ready state to the target state.
  • Aesthetic Thinking : solutions that we actually like, with a focus on structure, knowledge, composition, color and shape.

What is critical thinking in brainstorming?

A critical thinker does not simply assume ideas and assumptions, but will always be looking for more ideas, arguments and insights to get the full picture.

Critical thinkers will identify, analyze and solve problems in a systematic way rather than thinking from intuition or instinct.

A critical thinker is able to:

  • Make the connection between ideas and in them determine how important and relevant arguments and ideas are.
  • Recognize, build and evaluate arguments.
  • Find errors and inconsistencies in reasoning.
  • To approach problems in a consistent and systematic way.
  • Reflect on his own assumptions, beliefs and values.

Discover your creativity

You are now armed with knowledge to set up the best creative brainstorming sessions….

I’m curious, what do you think is the best brainstorming technique?

Let me know in a comment.

P.S. Want more help? Send an email to [email protected]

Frequently asked questions about brainstorming

A design sprint is a limited-time process that uses design thinking. The goal is to find an answer to a critical business question or a specific problem within that limited timeframe.

During a design sprint, design thinking is used.

To lead a brainstorm session it is important that you understand the problem, that you set a clear agenda, that you use the right brainstorm techniques and that you stimulate new ideas and don’t criticize ‘bad’ ideas.

First come up with a clear problem-statement, then choose matching brainstorm techniques, plan a clear agenda and at the end prioritize the outcomes of the brainstorm session.

There should be a purpose for the brainstorm, it should be with others, you should stimulate each other’s ideas, there should be no criticism of ideas, and make sure there is enough creativity.

Before brainstorming, the right questions should be asked, this can be done using Starbursting. Starbursting asks questions such as: how, what, where, when, who and why.

Design Thinking Process

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Rules for Brainstorming: A Guide to Effective Brainstorming

Diana Porumboiu

Brainstorming is one of those hyped terms that these days has a reputation of its own because of the controversy surrounding it. Is it just a shallow activity, organizations do when they are stuck in a rut? Or is there an efficient way to go about it without wasting time?

The debate still goes on, and both sides have valid arguments. The opposing sides of the debate are the experienced facilitators or managers who vouch for its value when done right, and the academic research that points out the flaws and the short-sightedness of the approach.

But we don’t live in a black and white world, and as is the case with most things, brainstorming is more nuanced than that. Since brainstorming first became a thing, in the ‘50s, the world has changed radically. In the past 70 years, we got the Internet, we went digital, and our working life looks completely different.

Even so, the basic rules of brainstorming haven’t really adapted to these new realities. So instead of asking ourselves if there is a point in brainstorming, and whether it’s good or bad, maybe we should update the old ways of brainstorming to make it more effective for modern organizations.

So, in this article, we’ll answer essential questions like what the value of brainstorming is, and provide practical steps and up-to-date rules of thumb that can lead to effective brainstorming sessions.

But without further ado, let’s get to it.

Table of contents

  • What is brainstorming?
  • The traditional rules and their benefits
  • Quantity first
  • Encourage crazy ideas
  • No criticism
  • Combine and improve

The improved rules of brainstorming

  • Create the right environment
  • Nurture creative abrasion
  • Build a process
  • How to setup a successful brainstorming session
  • Set the stage
  • Set up a board
  • Generate and collect
  • Priortize and follow-up

Brainstorming - guide and rules

What is brainstorming and what’s the hype around it?

To set the scene, let’s recap what brainstorming is and how it became such a key concept in creative thinking.  

In a nutshell, brainstorming refers to the group ideation technique where people get together for a session to generate and contribute ideas around a specific theme or problem.

Nowadays, brainstorming is the overarching term for a variety of methods, tools, and techniques that have been developed to facilitate creativity and encourage idea generation. But at its core, a brainstorming session is a face-to-face interaction that follows these steps:

You choose a problem that needs a solution, or a topic that could use improvements or fresh ideas.

Get together a small group of people to whom you communicate the goal of the session.

Prepare the setting: get flipcharts, or a whiteboard, post-its, pens, markers, etc

Introduce and write down the main topic to focus on (nowadays the topic is usually announced beforehand, and not on the spot).

Give people time to think and write their ideas down and as the ideas start flowing, shout them out or add them to the board. In this phase, there are different tools that can be used to help with the creative block and encourage creative thinking (mind mapping, five whys, six thinking hats SCAMPER , and so on).

Before wrapping up, ask questions or clarifications on ideas that need additional information.

The last step is a summary of the session with conclusions and next steps.

These are the main steps and depending on the brainstorming tools used during the workshop, these can look different and last for hours or even continue for several days in a row.

If you are interested in more ideation tools and techniques that go beyond brainstorming, you can check out our complete guide to ideation where we explained some of the most common ones.

idea generation toolkit_slim_banner_plain

As a short background story for those who are not familiar with the source of brainstorming, Alex Osborn is considered the father of this method. A creative theorist, and businessman he imagined the technique in the 50s, and was actively using it in his agency, BBDO. Reportedly, every day they were running a brainstorming session, in a bright yellow room where up to 12 people would gather to bounce around ideas. After 401 sessions, they had a total of 34000 ideas, which in the end resulted in 2000 good ideas.

If we do the math this translates to 5 decent ideas per session. 70 years ago, this might have looked like a good use of time, but considering today’s technologies and methods, those results could be achieved with far less effort and way faster. Current tools allow easier and faster idea collection, which leaves more time for actual development and implementation work.

Brainstorming caught the attention of researchers in the academic world, which made this one of the most researched creative thinking methods. This is also how the technique became very controversial.

The first ones to show interest in brainstorming were researchers at Yale, whose studies led to an unexpected outcome: individual ideation led to more ideas than group ideation. As academic settings are different from corporate ones, understandably the results were not deemed reliable.

The ball started rolling and leaders were now using brainstorming on a regular basis, but with their own twist.

One of the famous adopters of this method was Bill Gates who turned it into a “suggestion box”, by receiving ideas from employees that he would review on his own during his “think week”. This later turned into virtual idea challenges which allowed for a more systematic approach to brainstorming and a more structured evaluation method.

Steve Jobs also adopted brainstorming , but he brought his own style into the equation, breaking the no criticism, relaxed atmosphere rules.

And speaking of rules, the traditional brainstorming approach, as imagined by Osborn had a few ground rules that he considered essential for the success of a session.

So, let’s next have a look at these ground rules, their role, benefits but also shortcomings.

The traditional rules of brainstorming and their benefits

Osborn came up with the brainstorming technique as a tool to generate a large number of ideas for a specific problem. Brainstorming, which he initially called thinking up was grounded in a few basic rules that would govern each session.

1. Quantity first: come up with as many ideas as possible and the winning ideas will eventually come.

Ideas are the main purpose of a brainstorming session, so we couldn’t agree more, you want as many as possible. However, when it comes to traditional brainstorming sessions, you drastically reduce the number of ideas that could be generated.

The traditional approach suggests getting together 10 to 12 people who can work together. There’s an obvious limitation to this approach, as we saw in Osborn’s results, they needed over 400 sessions to get to 2000 decent ideas.

Limiting access to only a select few, is diminishing opportunities and the number and diversity of ideas that could be generated. It might have worked well in a small agency and in the 50s offices, but in today’s complex and global work environments, this approach is highly restrictive.

When people work remotely or from different corners of the world, it is highly inefficient to get them together for a brainstorming session. Let alone involve those who don’t happen to work in the figurative Ivory Tower at headquarters. Ideas should come from all employees in an organization , not just from top managers.

rules of braisntorming many ideas

2. Encourage bold, crazy ideas

Don’t rule out any ideas because you never know where a spark can come from. The risk with this rule is that people have the tendency to focus more on pointing out problems than solutions. But this doesn’t mean that there is no value in that. Even if the solution isn’t right, you might uncover something that was not obvious up to that point that helps you solve the right problem down the road.

Opening the door to wild ideas can come with the challenge of keeping people focused on the goal, especially since the next rule makes it even harder to get participants back on track when they veer away from the purpose of the session.

3. No evaluation or criticism of ideas

Understandably, the role of this rule is to not discourage or cut people off from churning out a flow of ideas. As the best ideas often build on top of other people’s ideas, this is as an important rule.

However, it also leads to some issues. Even though fostering a safe environment is essential in creative thinking, a brainstorming workshop won’t do the trick. Building a safe environment comes from the overall organizational culture and can’t be suddenly created when brainstorming if it was nonexistent before.

Even though on paper this is a good rule to balance the flow of ideas and give voice to everyone, in practice you will always have the most extrovert, open person in the room speak more and drown out others. Someone more opinionated or with a stronger personality could easily discourage the more reserved, introverted people. And this can happen even when enforcing this rule. Some people will always feel more comfortable speaking up than others. 

Also, if there is no instant reaction and no healthy debate, groupthink will settle in. The last rule of brainstorming is meant to combat this, but can it?

4. Combine and improve ideas

Osborn was not wrong to believe in the creative power of a group and in his circumstances, he made it work. When ideas are transparently shared, it’s easier for people to contribute, build upon those and get more creative together. 

At the same time, the proponents of brainstorming tend to blame the critics of the method for being inexperienced, unskilled, or simply ignorant. Basically, they don’t see any flaws in the method.

There might be a grain of truth there, but it’s just one side of the story. Even skilled facilitators have a hard time choosing and using the right tools to reach their goals. Sometimes you can expose yourself to others’ ideas at your own pace, when you can digest the information, not when your boss asks you to be creative.

To harness these ideas and moments, organizations should enable the transparent flow of ideas in an asynchronous approach. This will enable them to leverage the creative and collaborative power of hundreds and even thousands of people.

Luckily, modern technology and the myriad of tools available today allow for simultaneous interaction between thousands of people who can transparently collaborate and build on top of each other’s knowledge a snd ideas. 

It’s interesting to note that even though these ground rules were first introduced in the 50s, they are mostly valid, and can still be relevant in small agencies and working groups that need a fast fix to a specific issue.

rules of brainstorming cacti differences

When vouching for brainstorming, many supporters of the method bring up two important benefits:

Synergy , (which comes from the fourth rule of brainstorming) and

Social facilitation 

In essence, synergy refers to the results produced by collaborative work. When people get together, the overall result is greater than the impact they would have had individually.

So, when it comes to brainstorming the ideas generated by some can inspire and motivate others to come up with more ideas. It generates a chain reaction that enables people to build on top of each other’s ideas.

However, organizations are highly complex these days and information is spread across teams, departments and functions.

There are also many other things at play when it comes to team dynamics and human behavior when we interact in person.

For example, the more cohesive a group, the greater the risk of groupthink, conformity, and the tendency to want to reach unanimity. There is also the risk shift issue , which is the tendency of a group to make riskier decisions than they would have made individually.

The more cohesive a group, the greater the risk of groupthink, conformity, and the tendency to want to reach unanimity.

Then there is also the social loafing concept which refers to how people work less hard for ideas when in a group, rather than if they were doing it alone.

A study on group performance also brought to discussion another phenomenon: downward norm-setting , where a group performs at the level of the weakest person.

Teamwork and cohesive groups are essential for the well-functioning of an organization, but there is always the flip side of the coin. While all these things are not bad per se, they do inhibit the possibility of great, diverse, out-of-the-box ideas. The vacuum in which  brainstorming tends to operate, can favor such behaviors which can become bottlenecks for the idea-generation process.

Social facilitation

Again, this is a vast topic, but the main idea here is that people tend to behave differently when in the presence of others. Some research states that people perform better certain tasks when they are with other people than when they are alone.

These theories are hard to prove or explain even for social scientists, so in the context of brainstorming, it’s even more controversial to state that mere collaboration with others can improve one’s performance. There are just too many factors at play.

One of the most obvious is that each brainstorming brings together different personality types. Not everyone will feel energized by the chaos that some brainstorming sessions can turn into. From the personal experience of the introvert writing this piece, brainstorming sessions can be energy-draining, exhausting exercises, and not the most inspiring, motivating types of work meetings.

Most leaders who decide to run a brainstorming workshop do it for one or more of these reasons:

A fun activity to energize and motivate the team (as mentioned, it hardly applies to everyone, since you will never have completely homogeneous teams, something you shouldn’t even strive for)

fun work brainstorming

Improve communication and get people on the same page (indeed, when you bring people in the same room it’s easier to communicate the same thing to everyone and bring clarity).

They involve people in decision-making or at least give that illusion. In some cases, it can work, as people engage and feel motivated when they are listened to. But over time if their ideas are ignored, cynicism can creep in and people will stop believing and engaging in these workshops.

The main purpose of brainstorming, which is creative thinking and idea generation is mostly overlooked, but for these other benefits, it can still be a valuable exercise, especially in small teams and organizations.

That being said, for medium to large organizations who want to make the most of the basic idea of brainstorming, generate as many ideas as possible and get the best results, there are better ways to go about this. Some new, up to date rules, and tools, should be considered if you want to brainstorm in a 21st-century organization.

So, let’s see why and how you can revamp the traditional rules of brainstorming and bring them to modern working life. 

Before diving deeper into each of these rules, let’s start by setting the scene of brainstorming: when should you brainstorm, and what are the prerequisites that would make the effort worthwhile.

The most common criticism towards brainstorming is that it doesn’t build momentum and things come to a halt once the session has ended. The reasons could be:

There is no systematic process in place to manage ideas and to include ideation methods in these processes

The goals where not clearly defined before the brainstorming. Closely linked to the previous reason, there was no accountability for the outcome of the session and no one in charge of moving ideas further.

So, before jumping into a brainstorming session take a moment and reflect on the purpose. Are there other possibilities, tools, and solutions that might work better?

For example, in recent years a new concept has gained traction, painstorming . If we disregard the not so inspired choice of words, there’s actually something to it.

With painstorming the focus is shifted towards fixing customers’ pain points, so you work to uncover pain points and come up with better ideas around those. Of course, there is nothing new about it, but when you look at why you wanted to brainstorm in the first place, this might bring a new perspective, and with it, new methods and tools, like the Jobs To Be Done framework or How Might We statements.

JTBD slim

Of course, these tools aren’t mutually exclusive or replace the need or role of brainstorming. So, if you decide that brainstorming is still something you want to do, you might as well do it right. Here are some amendments to the traditional rules of brainstorming.  

1. Quantity: for more ideas, go virtual

As already mentioned, we stand by this rule: to get the best ideas you need a larger pool of ideas to choose from. And in the digital world we live in, you can’t rely just on pen and paper for that.

It’s simple: if you want more ideas, you need more input and more participants, which in an office setting is hard to achieve. We can’t imagine brainstorming with 30 people in the same space; how they would interact, take turns, suggest ideas, how long it would last, and what the outcome would be. Even finding a calendar slot that works for all 30 participants will likely take months. But we can imagine a hybrid workshop with 30 participants or even a completely virtual brainstorming session with hundreds of people.  


There are even studies that show how virtual brainstorming sessions are more productive because the environment can provide a better experience for the group members, balancing introverts and extroverts, optimists, and pessimists.

2. Encourage bold, crazy ideas: create the right environment

The crazy ideas come in the most unexpected moments, so don’t miss the opportunity of capturing those. Ideas should not be tied to a place or a moment and because you rarely have the wildest ideas on the spot in a brainstorming session, it’s best to provide the tools and create the processes that allow for idea generation and collection anywhere, and at any time.  That’s also why going virtual is essential. The standard approach is to squeeze some juicy ideas during brainstorming, or to dump them in a collaboration tool as a DM or in a group, where it will probably get lost among the hundreds of messages and conversations.  An idea management tool gives you the freedom and flexibility to come up with ideas at any moment. Then you can discuss them, build upon them, and develop even better ones before, during, or after your brainstorming session.

3. No evaluation, or criticism of ideas: for healthy debates, nurture creative abrasion

Another big topic that goes far beyond brainstorming is the culture in which these sessions take place. The premise is not wrong: you don’t want people to feel intimidated, so you don’t criticize or put their ideas down. The backbone of brainstorming is collaborative work, but to collaborate doesn’t mean to agree with others all the time. In fact, we get better ideas through debate and discourse.

To collaborate doesn’t mean to agree with others all the time. We get better ideas through debate and discourse.

While Steve Jobs is to this day labeled as a bad leader for his aggressive style and insensitive ways, we could see how his approach helped build a couple of the most innovative companies in the world. Between his style and today’s overly polite approach to conflicting ideas, there is a middle ground: creative abrasion , the ability to create a marketplace of ideas through debate and discourse. 

Creative abrasion is not about creating conflict, and irritating group members. It’s about creating cultural, disciplinary, and thinking style diversity, encouraging diversity of ideas, and managing the resulting abrasion for maximum creativity.   To have creative abrasion you need a work environment that provides psychological safety, where people feel safe to advocate for their point of view and disagree with their colleagues or even superiors. Ideas should be challenged, and so should people. If you are a facilitator, ask questions like “what happens if…”, “have you thought of…” or “how might we…”?

You can read more about the topic of psychological safety in our article on how to lead innovative teams.

4. Combine and improve ideas: turn the sessions into a process

A good rule that could also use some refinement to make it even better. In the traditional setting, once ideas are generated and collected, people are expected to react to the pool of ideas they have in front of them. Yet again, there is no such thing as a stroke of genius, the a-ha moment that comes spontaneously.

The key here is to give people the time to reflect on what they’ve learned, research and work on those ideas in order to come up with novel, updated versions of those ideas. In traditional brainstorming, all of that should happen in the same session. 

However, this is not something you can do in one session. It’s not just the conclusion of Yale researchers. Jake Knapp , inventor of the design sprint method, and author of Sprint, was using brainstorming workshops at Google for years, until he realized the outcome was not the expected one. Individual ideas that were thought through, of people who took the time to think and analyze, were better and more valuable than those that came out of the brainstorming workshops.

So, what you can do instead is to turn brainstorming into a primarily asynchronous collaborative process that includes a few joint sessions where people can come together to discuss, debate, and find alignment.

Turn brainstorming into a primarily asynchronous collaborative process that includes a few joint sessions where people can come together to discuss, debate, and find alignment.

If you want to rush brainstorming into a few hours session and expect great results from that, there might be no point in brainstorming at all. You might as well just ask some experts for their input on that specific issue or challenge. And you might still get better results than doing rushed brainstorming sessions.

With these new rules in place, let’s see how you can organize and run successful brainstorming sessions. For a practical approach, we’ll show you the steps using one of Viima’s board templates, specially created for those looking to get started with brainstorming.

How to setup a virtual or hybrid brainstorming session

The most exciting part is always getting our hands dirty. Before getting started you need to decide on a shared collaboration tool that is easy to take into use, flexible, and intuitive for everyone to contribute. Ideally, you will choose a tool that doesn’t allow just idea collection, but can support multiple simultaneous idea management processes, can be easily customized, and allows evaluation, transparency, and participation from different kinds of stakeholders, both inside and outside the organization.

The right tool will enable you to run both virtual and hybrid brainstorming sessions where you have some teams remote and others in-person.  

We might be biased, but Viima is ticking all these boxes, and it has been developed based on research findings, and with top innovation experts to streamline the idea management process. 

1. Set the stage

This first step takes us back to the last rule on the list. Start by defining the process(es) for the sessions you wish to organize.

What is the main goal and focus that will guide the session? Our customers usually start their workshops, brainstorming or idea challenges by setting on the process that best fits their situation.

For example, Banca Mediolanum is organizing an annual idea challenge, which they call Bonus Pool, to collect ideas from their employees to find solutions to specific problems. Their process involves different teams and departments, but for the idea generation and collection, they have assigned an Innovation Team to manage the ideas, connect the similar ones, identify needs, and evaluate their impact.

All these things were decided in advance, which helped them settle on how to set up their board, assign roles, choose participants, communicate the process, provide access to the tool, so on and so forth.

2. Set up a board to collect ideas

In Viima you can find various pre-defined board templates that have been created to meet different needs.

brainstorming board template

For this scenario we will use the brainstorming board template which has the right settings already in place. These can easily be edited and changed, or you can also create a new board from scratch.

At this stage, you should already know who will be responsible for monitoring the process, who will participate, and what channels of communication will be used.

To begin, you create a welcome message visible to everyone who will open the board. Here you should explain the why, what, and how . For easier monitoring and better organization, select the categories of ideas you are looking for. These can be around solutions, opportunities, challenges or problems you want to solve. 

For the purpose of this example we created four different categories for the ideas, but you can have as many or as little as you prefer. 

intro message for brainstorming board

3. Generate, collect, and organize ideas

If you’re running a hybrid or an in-person brainstorming, make sure to send the agenda beforehand . This will give people time to prepare, think about the topic and make research if necessary. If your brainstorming is part of a longer process, like an idea challenge and you run it asynchronously, you can set a deadline for submitting ideas.

Ask them to contribute in advance so that during the brainstorming session you can focus on discussing and refining those ideas. Here is an example of how you could set up a board and how it looks once ideas are generated.

You can filter ideas based on category (color-coded) or status. Define the development process of ideas through statuses that indicate where the idea is in the process. 

ideas brainstorming

Evaluating ideas is a great way to spot ideas with greater potential and select those that you will discuss during a real-time brainstorming session.

4. Evaluate 

In short, you need an idea evaluation process to get the information that will allow you to make the best possible decision. When evaluating ideas you need a set of criteria, or metrics to consider the various aspects of an idea. When you combine these metrics you get a numeric rating, the score, which can provide an estimate for the potential of the idea.

A systematic set of criteria for evaluating ideas will help you take better and more consistent decisions. However, these criteria vary greatly depending on the industry, type of ideas, strategic objectives, etc.

You can see in this example the evaluation criteria we chose for this brainstorming. This is a simple example, but the criteria can vary greatly depending on your business goals.

idea evaluation metrics

This is where many brainstorming sessions end. But in reality, this is just the beginning. Once you are done with the brainstorming, idea collection, and evaluation, you need to prioritize them and decide on the next steps. All these steps should be transparent, so people understand the reasons behind certain decisions, why some ideas might be left behind and why others are considered.

5. Prioritize and follow-up

This is the step where the magic of a good tool comes in play. Here you can see an example of the evaluation dashboard, which can help you prioritize and select the ideas that meet your criteria and get the highest score.

For a more in-depth analysis, you can also make use of the analytics dashboard which provides an overview of the effectiveness of your brainstorming/ idea challenge.

idea evaluation board overview

At this point, you can choose a few ideas to go forward with and prepare for the next session and invite people on an even more focused brainstorming around those ideas.

If you get to one idea with high potential, you can zoom in on that, move it to another board for validation, or maybe even create a new board around the development and refinement of that idea. Before you get to implementation, depending on the complexity of the ideas you’ll be working on, you can repeat the process. 


We’ve reached the end of this article, but not the end of the topic. As mentioned above, brainstorming should only be a starting point, a piece in the puzzle of the internal processes you’ve worked hard to develop.

To wrap up let’s recap some of the main points we believe you should take away from this.

First, don’t put the cart before the horses by looking for ideas before defining a clear problem or issue you want to brainstorm around. Narrow down the objective to provide focus and increase the effectiveness of the session.

Second, build the brainstorming and ideation process around specific questions. You can start with 15-20 questions that are tied to your business goals and will provide direction and inspire good ideas. Thought-provoking questions will help the session flow in the right direction. “how can we…?”, “if you had no constraints how would you…?”, “how can we put these pieced together in a new way?”, “what do these insights/ data reveal?” etc.

And last, when it comes to setting expectations, consider the existing limitations you have to work with . As much as everyone wants to come up with “outside the box” ideas, the counterintuitive truth is that constraints and limits are what often lead to the most original ideas. Plus, they help you focus on what matters, and remain grounded in reality.

Brainstorming is here to stay, and whether painstorming will be the new hyped term, it’s important to see it for what it is. A tool that if used right, can encourage creative thinking. Your ultimate goal shouldn’t be to simply generate ideas. Instead, you need to innovate. Even though ideas are the cornerstone of innovation, they are not enough to set the wheels in motion and start the innovation engine. 

You can start collecting ideas in minutes. Just create a brainstorming board in Viima and get creative. 

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Ultimate Brainstorming: A Beginner’s Guide to Brainstorming and Ideation

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up. – Oliver Wendell Holmes

This is a guest post written by Arthur Kaptein who is the author of the  Ultimate Brainstorming  book. 

Brainstorming CAN Work!!!

Brainstorming is something we all do, every day, and all the time. If you say; “I never Brainstorm!” think again!!!

As David Allen says;

“Brainstorming is something that we do naturally. As soon as you think of something that you want to do, your mind will automatically start “filling in the blanks” with all the things that have your attention about achieving that result. That could be as simple as getting dressed or as complex as building a company. But the mind tends to generate ideas about the topic in somewhat random fashion. But even though the mind does this naturally, it can do it with more creativity and value, if you use some form of thought-capturing device, such as mind-maps on paper , whiteboards, or the computer.” — From Ultimate Brainstorming book; David Allen, author of Getting things Done

Nowadays organizations everywhere are confronted with enormous challenges, and enormous pressure to do more with less. That is one of the main reasons that brainstorming sessions have become an essential part of organizations worldwide.

Although organizations worldwide have embraced brainstorming as a useful technique, there are still quite some misconceptions surrounding most brainstorming sessions; knowing what the whole process of brainstorming is, not truly involving employees, as well as treating brainstorming as one-time events. These misconceptions can have a crippling effect on any organizations brainstorming session.

“My opinion on brainstorming (as we traditionally view it) is that it’s been misapplied from its original inception and, as such, has become an antiquated technique that’s not responsive to real human beings and how we think. It can be and is being redeemed by modern facilitation and design-thinking methods, so I’m optimistic about brainstorming’s future. It just needs to be reframed, reconstructed and placed in good hands.” — From Ultimate Brainstorming book; Sunni Brown, Co-Author of Gamestorming

I believe that if brainstorming sessions are to get individuals and organizations the results they are looking for, they will have to be educated in how brainstorming should be used; organizations will truly have to involve their employees, and brainstorming should be used in a well-structured, as well as structural way. Only then will organizations be able to create an environment where people truly work together, build on each other’s ideas, change perceptions, as well as support team thinking.

When organizations foster a culture of creative thinking , brainstorming will be one of the most valuable techniques to use.

On the other hand, a poorly run brainstorming session may do more harm than good in any creative process.

That is why I look at Brainstorming as part of a bigger process, not as being THE complete process.

In order to easily structure your brainstorming sessions, I will share with you my 9 step approach to successful brainstorming .

What is Brainstorming

Step 1: Set Your Focus

What is the statement for the session?

A brainstorming session should be targeted to a specific topic or else you run the risk of ending up with too many ideas, which cannot be used. You should define the problem area or the opportunity area you want to work on before starting the Brainstorming session.

Create a Statement

The best way to do this is to create a goal statement, mission statement, or vision statement describing the opportunity area or problem area you want to work on. You can create a statement on forehand when the topic for the session can be clearly defined. Or use it as an icebreaker if there are still some doubts about the central topic of the brainstorming session.

Creating a statement with the participants will create extra involvement.

Present the Statement

Always present the created statement before the session.

When known, send out the statement to the participants with the invitation for the session. If you do not have the statement ready when sending out the invites, inform the participants that a statement for the session will follow.

Look Back at the Statement

After the session has ended, you can look back at the statement to see if the goals have been reached.

A clear focus will get you clear ideas. And even if your brainstorming session will be used to come up with general ideas you should create one of the three statements.

Since there is always a goal there should always be a statement created for the session.

Step 2: Know Your Boundaries

What resources are available.

Make sure to know what the boundaries are for the brainstorming session.

What resources can you work with to generate ideas? What is of limit?

Some people might say that setting boundaries can limit a session, and of course, it might limit the creation of ideas. On the other side, however, nothing is more frustrating than spending a day of brainstorming, coming up with great ideas, evaluating them in order to create an action plan for your best ideas, and then come to the conclusion that your idea will not be executed due to a lack of resources.

As a facilitator creating a list of available resources is an important part of the preparation of a brainstorming session. Try to create a complete list of resources that the organization is willing to commit to the brainstorming session.

What is off limits?

When brainstorming for change it’s good to know what areas are off limit. This will prevent brainstorming sessions from coming up with ideas that are doomed.

Is there a framework?

Some organizations use special frameworks for their decision making process . If these exist, make sure to use them. Otherwise, you run the risk of ending up with a plan that cannot be executed due to the form you present it in.

So if there are specific limitations, they should be presented to the participants at the start of the session, and they should be known to the facilitator. Of course, once shared, management and/or leadership will have to commit to the outcomes of the brainstorming session.

Step 3: Invite the Right People

Who do you really need in the session?

Now you know what the goal is for the brainstorming session, and what resources you will have available to work with, you can start thinking about who you need to invite for the session to make it a success.

One Department

Gathering a group of people from within one department is the common way to create a group of participants. When working on a financial topic, gather people from the finance department. When working on an HR topic, gather people from the HR department. (Although this can work, I would advise mixing in a few outsiders for a different perspective on the topic at hand)

Managers from Different Departments

Invite the heads from different departments if you need maximum decision power during the brainstorming session, for example during a strategic planning session. Of course, it is advisable for the managers to conduct short brainstorming sessions with their teams before in order to create a strong platform, as well as extra buy-in when final decisions have to be executed.

A Team and Mix It

Invite the team you work with, and mix in a few outsiders. Outsiders could be people from departments that might not be directly involved in the topic at hand but might pay a supportive role in the future. All too often people overlook the importance of involving someone from different areas; HR training department (training might be needed); IT (technical changes might be needed); Finance (to create a clear financial picture) etc.

Of course, it all depends on the goal of the session as to what type of group you will invite. But always be sure to make a short list of the key participants that have to be in the session to make it successful, and build around that group of key participants.

Step 4: Select a Location

Where can we get the best results?

The location where you have your brainstorming session can be of great influence. The participants should be at a location that has minimal distractions. If you have the possibility to hold the brainstorming session away from the office, then do it!!

When you have only a short time for holding your brainstorming session (2 to 3 hours), an on-site session will be the best solution. However the main problem with on-site brainstorming is that people might be there physically, but their minds will be at their workspace. In this situation make sure phones are turned off, as well as laptops.

When you have 4 to 6 hours or more, you should consider holding the session off-site. Off-site you can eliminate a lot of distractions in order to make sure the participants are truly present during the session.


Another option is to combine the two, starting on-site, and then go off-site. This is a great option if you want to take a look at the problem or opportunity at hand in order to have all participants focus on what is truly important during the session.

Much will depend on the time and resources available. But no matter where you hold the session, always make sure to create a comfortable environment, as well as a relaxing atmosphere.

How to Brainstorm

Step 5: Select Techniques for the Session

What techniques are right for the session?

To run a great session, you need a well-prepared plan.

How will I capture all the ideas?

The best way to capture the ideas is to appoint a scribe to capture them, so you as the facilitator don’t have to write down ideas while managing the group. Otherwise, you can always collect the ideas in an organized manner and work those out after the session.

What techniques will I use?

Choose an icebreaker to warm up the participants for the brainstorming session. Make sure that the icebreaker you choose matches your objective.

For example; Use a getting to know you icebreaker like “ Talk Show Host ” when the participants are not familiar with each other. Use an icebreaker like “ Expectations ” to have the participants share their expectations with the group, or use an icebreaker like “ Mini Storm ” to get the participants in the right mindset before the main session.

Use an icebreaker that has meaning for the session. All too often participants complain that the warming-up made no sense and was a waste of time, try to avoid this.

Using the Expectations Technique

Expectations create a clear picture of the expectations of the participants for the session. This is a great technique to use for evaluation purposes of your session, as well as to create connections between participants.

Step 1: Expectations

Give all the participants some note cards and ask them to write down three expectations that they have for the session.

Step 2: Grouping the Participants

Create teams of 2 or 3 persons. When working with a big group you might want to create groups of 4 or 6 persons.

Step 3: Discuss

Ask the participants to discuss their expectations for the event with each other for around 10 minutes.

Step 4: Write

Let each team write down 3 expectations they have in common for the session.

Step 5: Share Expectations

Bring the group back together again, and ask the different teams to share their expectations with the entire group (views are not judged, only shared).

Step 6: Collect the Cards

Collect the cards and look back at them at the end of the session.

At the end of the session, you can ask the participants to write down what parts of their expectations have been met, or not. You can use a questionnaire to do this.

You can also add a short discussion round comparing the expectations the participants had before the start of the session with the end result of the session.

Using the Mini Storm Technique

Mini Storm gets the participants into the right mindset by using brainstorming in a mini form. This is a great way to lay a strong foundation for the main brainstorming session.

Step 1: The Rules

Present the brainstorming rules to the participants.

  • Everything goes (with a focus on the main topic).
  • Combinations create new ideas.
  • Work together.
  • Delay judgment.

Step 2: Present a Topic

Present a small problem or opportunity to the group to work on.

Step 3: Start Brainstorming

Give each participant 3 index cards, and ask the participants to write an idea on each index card.

Step 4: Place the Cards

Pick up the cards and place the cards on the board around the central topic. Group the cards that have similar ideas on them.

Step 5: Combine Ideas

Ask the participants what ideas could be combined, and place those cards together on the board.

Step 6: The Third Option

Now let the participants write one idea on an index card, based on the combined ideas.

Step 7: Replace Cards

Replace the old cards on the board for the new cards.

Step 8: Voting

Do an anonymous round of voting to rank the ideas on the board.

Step 9: Top 3

Pick the top three ideas.

Step 10: Get SMART

Create groups of 3 to 4 participants and let them come up with a SMART action plan for the three ideas.

S – Specific M – Measurable A – Action-oriented R – Realistic T – Time-bound

Step 11: Present S.M.A.R.T.

Have each group present their S.M.A.R.T. action plan to the whole group. Have a round of questioning after each presentation.

Step 12: Last Voting Round

Put the plans on the board, and have another voting round.

Choose a brainstorming and evaluation technique that can help you reach your objective. Most important when choosing a technique is the time you have available for your session, as well as the central topic of the session, and of course the participants that take part in the brainstorming session. Make sure to have a backup technique available in case the participants get stuck during the session.

The Fishbone Brainstorming Technique

The fishbone diagram is a cause-and-effect diagram that can be used to identify the potential (or actual) cause(s) for a (performance) problem. Fishbone diagrams provide structure for a group discussion around the potential causes of a problem.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

First, write down the exact problem the participants are facing.

Then, write the problem in a box on the left or right-hand side of a flip-chart page or a whiteboard, and draw a line from the box.

Step 2: Work Out the Main Factors Involved

Now the participants have to identify the factors that are part of the problem. These can be systems, equipment, materials, external forces, people involved with the problem, etc.

Step 3: Identify the Possible Causes

For each main factor, the participants considered in step 2, brainstorm possible sub-causes of the problem. Show these sub-causes as shorter lines coming off the “bones” (main causes) of the diagram.

Step 4: Analyze Your Diagram

The participants can now investigate the most likely causes in greater detail. This can be done by creating a new diagram highlighting one of the main causes.

The Post-Up Brainstorming Technique

The Post-Up works in several ways. First, it allows people to work in parallel, thus speeding the session and getting everyone engaged at once. It also gets people emotionally engaged as they are writing their own ideas rather than have other people write or interpret them.

Step 1: Define the Problem

Define the problem in the normal way and make sure it is visible to all the participants.

Step 2: Prime the Team

Tape or pin-up paper on the wall. Two or three flip-chart pages together, side-by-side give a good working area.

Give everyone 3″ x 5″ Post-It Notepads plus fiber-tip pens, (or markers). The pens should be thick enough so a posted-up note is readable from several feet away, but not so thick that only a few words can be written.

Tell them to always write one idea per Post-It Note.

If you are doing this by yourself, you can scale the whole thing down by using mini-Post-It Notes and stick them on standard sheets of writing paper. You can even do it on the computer.

Step 3: Silent Writing of Ideas

Start with everyone silently writing down ideas, one per Post-It Note.

They should not at this time stick their Post-It Notes up on the wall (the focus is still on capturing ideas).

Step 4: Post Up Ideas

The team then posts up their ideas on the wall. A good way of doing this is to have each person take turns to post one idea. The person posting up the idea reads it out and everyone else listens.

If any posted idea triggers other ideas for anyone in the team, they can write them on more Post-It Notes and add them to their pile.

When all ideas are posted, then you can also use other creative methods to generate even more ideas.

Step 5: Shuffling and Exploration

When you run out of ideas, you can move the Post-It Notes around to group together ideas into themes or otherwise explore further.

Beware when combining ideas of ending up with a vague ‘generalized’ idea that loses the essence of some of its more original constituents.

(The Post-Up brainstorming technique comes from Creating Minds)

NUF Test Evaluation Technique

The NUF marking is a very simple quick check that you can use. It works because it is easy and intuitive, the criteria are already selected and there are only three of them.

Step 1: New, not been tried before

A solution is not creative unless it is new.

When we say ‘new’ here we are not looking to get into philosophical arguments about original thought, but we do mean something substantially different from those things which have been tried before.

Step 2: Useful, solves the problem

It is good to have a creative new solution — and it is even better if it solves the problem!

The question here is ‘How completely does it solve the problem?’

A totally useful solution solves the problem completely — and does not create any new ones.

Step 3: Feasible, can be implemented in practice

If you have a really novel solution that fully solves the problem, the final question is ‘Can it be put into practice?’

If it is very expensive to implement and difficult to use, then it will not be a very feasible solution.

Another good question here is ‘Who will I have to persuade?’

A solution to a problem can be assessed and scored with the simple three-part ‘Nuf test’. Just score it from 0 to 10 on each of ‘New’, ‘Useful’ and ‘Feasible’.

The Voting Evaluation Technique

Voting is naturally accepted in democracies as being a good and fair way of choosing. Because everyone is involved, then they all will usually agree with the final selection.

Step 1: Decide on the Voting Scheme

There are a number of schemes you can use to vote for ideas.

  • A fixed number of votes per person, typically one to five, depending on the number of ideas.
  • Weighted votes, for example, one vote of value three, one of value two, and one of value one.
  • The ability to put all votes on one idea or a rule that one person can only put one vote on one idea.

Here is another possible way of deciding votes, based on the number of ideas for which votes will be cast:


You also need to decide on the confidentiality requirements. If, for example, there is a manager and subordinates in the creative group, then the subordinates may take a lead from the manager. This can also happen with informal social leaders.

Step 2: Decide on Voting Method

There are several methods that can be used for casting votes.

Voting can be done with sticky dots (good for ensuring that individuals cannot be identified). If you use this with weighted value scheme, then use different colors of dots for different values (for example red = 3 points, blue = 2 points, green = 1 point).

When ideas are written on flip charts, then numbers, ticks, crosses or dots may be written by individuals against selected ideas.

If you are concerned about people being influenced by votes cast by others prior to them, then you can do a fully anonymous vote. One way of doing this is for them to write the description of the voted-for-idea on a slip of paper and hand it to you.

Step 3: Vote

Use the scheme as designed to vote for ideas.

Ideas are not always in a format where it is easy to apply votes. Before voting, you may need to reformat ideas, perhaps rewriting illegible ideas or simply discussing the ideas so everyone knows what they are.

Step 4: Sweep Up

After voting, count up the votes as cast and ensure agreement with the idea as selected. You can also do a ‘common sense’ check at this time, asking whether there are any good looking ideas which have been left out.

Step 5: Repeat as Necessary

If you end up with a lack of clarity of selection, perhaps with a dozen ideas out of 50 or so with a similar number of votes, then remove the non-voted-for ideas and perhaps the lowest half of voted-for ideas, then repeat the whole process. By steadily eliminating lower ideas, the preferred ideas will emerge.

Activities for Brainstorming

How will I follow up?

Decide before the session how to follow up:

  • Will there be an extra brainstorming session?
  • Will you use short follow up meetings, daily where the participants will explain what they did, what they will do, and what is holding them back?
  • Or will you follow up by email?

No matter how you follow up, follow-up has to take place.

Step 6: Prepare the Participants

How will the participants be prepared?

Once you know where and when your brainstorming session will take place, you know the boundaries and how you will run the session, as well as whom you will invite to the session, then it is time to start sending out the invitations for your brainstorming session. Send out your invites by email telling people the time and the place, and ask them to confirm if they will be present or not.

When time and resources are available, have a special brainstorming training session with the participants in order to prepare them for their brainstorming session. Not only will this prepare the group of participants for the final session, it will also give you the opportunity to see how the group interacts with each other. If there are extremely big egos in the group you can have a short talk with them after the training session, to explain that there will be no place for that behavior during the brainstorming session (don’t do this in public during the preparation stage).

Always give the participants the opportunity to do some individual brainstorming before the session by emailing the topic beforehand. This will give the participants time to do extra research on the topic that will be the main focus of your session. And as a result, you will be working with a group of well-prepared participants.

Use an icebreaker at the start of the session to prepare the participants for the brainstorming part of the session. You might want to let the group work on a small issue they face before jumping into the main topic. Again, make the icebreaker connect to the session.

A good preparation of the participants of your brainstorming session is as important as the session itself. Don’t expect miracles if the participants don’t know what is being expected of them!!!

Step 7: Prepare the Location

What do I need for the location?

Now it is time to prepare the location for the session. Of course, there are quite some differences when preparing an on-site or off-site session. That is why we will take a look at the preparation of each location separately.

On-Site Location

When preparing an on-site location make sure to check the space before you have your session, check for: size, furniture available, outlets for equipment, space for activities, etc.

Be creative if you have limited resources. All too often facilitators use a lack of resources as an excuse if a session turns out bad. If you know on forehand what space and materials you have available, you can always build your session around them, and get great results.

Off-Site Location

When preparing an off-site location try to have the location at your disposal several hours before you have your session. Of course, it would be great if you already have the location available a complete day before you have the session. This will give you all the time to set up the location, as well as rehearse your session.

When combining an on-site and off-site location make sure to have the off-site location prepared extremely well, or have a group lunch at the location where the main session will take place. Organize transportation for the group, or have clear maps for the participants to reach the location.

Always make sure to confirm all made arrangements before the session takes place (catering, reservations for special activities, special guests, etc.). Use a checklist of the materials you need for running the session, and the materials you need to give to the participants to use during the session. We prefer to create a brainstorming kit for the participants and hand them out when they enter the location.

Preparing for Brainstorming Session

Step 8: Run the Session

How will the session be run?

Now it is time to start your brainstorming session, always have a 15 to 30-minute welcome prepared for the participants. This is to make sure everyone is present before starting the session and to introduce yourself to the participants in an informal and relaxed manner. Don’t jump straight into the session.

Part 1: Start the Session

Set the ground rules.

Before starting the session; make clear that you run the session. But that you are not there to hand them solutions. The facilitator’s job is to steer the session, provide the participants with the right tools to reach the objectives of the session and to make sure all participants are involved in the session. Hand out the brainstorming kit, and go over the brainstorming rules once more:

  • Strive for quantity
  • Encourage wild and unusual ideas
  • Postpone judgment
  • Build and combine ideas

Explain to the group that you will start with an Icebreaker to lay the foundation for the main session (always explain what you are going to do, a clear roadmap will support the participants in focusing on the tasks at hand.

Break the Ice

Start with your Icebreaker to warm up the group. A good icebreaker gets the participants in the mood for some serious brainstorming. Make sure the Icebreaker involves the participants, as well as the focus-point of the main session. Often facilitators use Icebreakers that are completely off topic, and as a result, they can alienate the participants from the start.

After the Icebreaker, you should give the participants the time to ask clarifying questions before you start the main session. Also, ask the participants questions in order to make sure they know what is expected of them. Don’t assume that if they don’t have questions, they know what is expected of them.

After the warm-up, the participants are ready for the main event.

Part 2: Start Brainstorming

Present the opportunity and/or problem statement for the session.

This can be a one-liner or a paragraph. Make sure the statement you present is specific enough to work with. Never start your session with a half done statement like; “We have to increase sales”. Come with something like:

“We are looking for new opportunities in the market to increase our sales by at least 10% in the coming six months. To do that we can use……. .”

Start the brainstorming session

Explain what you are going to do. Especially when you are going to use more advanced Brainstorming techniques it will be worth the time to explain exactly what is expected. Nothing is worse than spending your time during the Brainstorming session, explaining what the participants have to do. Do this before you start the session. And even if you are using a seemingly easy technique, explain what you are going to do. Do this before each step in the session!!!

During the brainstorming session

Encourage the participants to jump in with ideas and moderate the individuals that try to take control of the session. You need to hear ideas from everyone. At this stage ideas are not to be judged, they should be built on and combined.

Keep the focus of the team on the goal. When participants go off topic, steer them back towards the main topic. You can easily do this by asking questions regarding the issue at hand. Use closed yes/no questions to do this.

Occasionally fire questions at the group, to create fresh views on the topic. Always make sure to have some great questions prepared in order to steer the participants around the topic that is being discussed. When the participants are on topic, but are getting stuck, use open ended questions to fire up their thinking again.

When the brainstorming phase has ended, you are not yet done.

Part 3: Evaluate, Plan, and Look Back

After you finish the brainstorming session with a number of ideas it is time to evaluate those ideas. In my experience it is best to have a break after the brainstorming session, this to give participants the time to wind down after an intense creative activity. This will also give you time to change the setting.

Where the brainstorming phase is all about being creative, the evaluation phase is more about analytical thinking. You could even do this on a different day (much will depend on the size of the project, and the available time and resources).

Action Plan

Once you have evaluated the ideas and picked the best one, or even a top three, it is time to create a plan of action . Make sure your action plan is S.M.A.R.T.!!!

  • Specific : Are the actions well-defined and focused?
  • Measurable : Are tools in place that can track progress?
  • Action-oriented : Are the actions that will be taken clearly described?
  • Realistic : Is the plan realistic?
  • Time-bound : Have clear limits been set for each step?

Make sure to plan an official kick-off for the start of any project!!!

After you finish creating an action plan, it is always good to take a step back and look back at the session. Assess the session with the participants, double check if everyone is on the same page, and don’t forget to do a serious self-assessment.

Step 9: Follow Up

How will follow up take place?

After a lot of hard work, brainstorming, evaluating, and planning it is time to follow-up. Even if there is no extra session planned, follow-up is an important tool to see what the effects of the brainstorming session were and to keep people accountable for agreements they made.

Scrums are short meetings that can be held daily as well as weekly. They focus on three questions:

  • What did we do yesterday (last week)?
  • What will we do today (this week)?
  • Are there any obstacles?

A Follow Up Brainstorming Session

Extra sessions can be held to follow the progress of the initial session. These can be shorter due to the fact that you only have to track the progress of the created action plan. It will also help the organization to create lasting employee involvement.


Electronic follow-up can be done by mail. You can also set up a special page, or use an online project planning tool to track the progress of the project.

The way to follow up should be agreed on before the end of your session. This to create a clear view for all participants on what will happen after an action plan has been created.

I hope you found this summary of the 9 Step Ultimate Brainstorming Process of value. Thank you for reading and Happy Brainstorming. 🙂

Six Creative Ways to Brainstorm Ideas

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Ultimate Brainstorming Workbook

To download this workbook, please visit the Ultimate Brainstorming Workbook page.

Arthur Kaptein is an author, consultant, and Founder of Ultimate Brainstorming . He is recognized as an authority on personal and organizational development. He is a certified career, and executive coach (by the Center for Executive Coaching). He provides personalized Career Development Services to managers, and top executives, specializing in the Mexican market.

For top decision makers worldwide Arthur Kaptein has developed the “Brainstorming for Results” program, a signature program from Ultimate Brainstorming. Providing managers and executives (worldwide) with the tools and techniques they need to get themselves organized; by creating a goal-oriented roadmap to success, as well as concise short-term strategies to reach their final goals.

Time to Assimilate these Concepts

Ultimate Brainstorming Beginner's Guide


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Gain More Knowledge…

Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:

  • 4 Steps to Successful Brainstorming @ Forbes
  • 6 Personality Types to Ban from Brainstorming Sessions @ Inc.
  • 10 Longtime Brainstorming Techniques that Still Work @ Inc.
  • 11 Best Ways to Brainstorm Creative Ideas @ Creative Blog
  • Brainstorming 2.0: Making Ideas that Really Happen @ 99U
  • Brainstorming: Generating Many Radical, Creative Ideas @ Mind Tools
  • How to Prepare for a Brainstorming Session @ Huffington Post
  • How to Run a Brainstorm for Introverts (and extroverts too) @ TED
  • How to Run a Brainstorming Session @ Inc.
  • Richard Branson on the Art of Brainstorming @ Entrepreneur
  • Rolestorming: Improving Group Brainstorming @ Mind Tools
  • Stop Brainstorming, Start Brainswarming @ 99U
  • The 10 Commandments of Brainstorming @ Forbes
  • The Science of Brainstorming @ Fast Company

About The Author

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Adam Sicinski

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What is Brainstorming? A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

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EdrawMind is a mind mapping tool equipped with 700+ cliparts. This article presents a step-by-step guide to creating a creative mind map to present your idea elegantly. Try EdrawMind and create hundreds of mind maps today!

Are you struggling to understand a concept or struggling to come up with a breakthrough marketing plan? Look no further than brainstorming. Whether you're a student or a professional, brainstorming is a universal concept that can help anyone generate creative solutions to problems. In this detailed guide, we'll teach you what is brainstorming and its main purpose. By the end of this article, you'll have the tools you need to unlock your creativity and overcome any obstacle.

ideas and brainstorming

1. What is Brainstorming

brainstorm mind map

Brainstorming is a creative problem-solving method that involves generating new or building on existing ideas. It can be done individually or in a group, and there are no strict guidelines for the process.

  • To begin the process of brainstorming, it is important to first define the goal or main objective.
  • When presented with an objective or issue, we investigate any obstacles that may arise.
  • The problem or situation is analyzed from various angles, and solutions are identified to address the challenges.
  • During brainstorming sessions, all ideas are considered and noted without judgment or structure, and some may be combined.

To create a marketing plan for your brand, start by defining its objective and vision. Then, focus on the promotional strategy, customer perception, pricing, and competitor analysis. By considering these factors, you can develop an exciting new marketing plan.

2. What is the Purpose of Brainstorming

Alex Faickney Osborn

Brainstorming means generating new ideas. Alex Faickney Osborn created the concept in 1942 while working in his advertising firm, BBDO. Brainstorming's main purpose is to create new ideas without criticizing any thoughts. Brainstorming can help you achieve many things.

  • The primary objective is to creatively or innovatively address a problem.
  • Brainstorming is a technique that focuses on enhancing the process of generating ideas and promoting creativity among individuals.
  • A key goal of brainstorming is to encourage the free flow of ideas without judgment or critique.
  • One objective of brainstorming is idea association, which involves grouping ideas together or building off of existing ideas.
  • Lastly, it advocates for approaching a problem from a fresh perspective to generate a multitude of new ideas.

3. What are the Benefits of Brainstorming

Brainstorming has several notable advantages that contribute to its widespread popularity and recognition.

  • Using a different approach can break the monotony of problem-solving and provide a fresh perspective on the situation.
  • Brainstorming is an effective approach to generating diverse ideas that can lead to a comprehensive solution.
  • Brainstorming is commonly used as a teaching method for students because it promotes self-learning and enhances comprehension.
  • It can be advantageous for enhancing teamwork and generating collective ideas.
  • Brainstorming can be a useful tool for generating ideas and finding solutions in situations such as list-building or resolving a deadlock by gathering input from a group.
  • Brainstorming is a flexible process that can be done by individuals from various fields without any technical limitations because there are no strict rules.

4. Types of Brainstorming

Brainstorming can be done individually or in a group. There are different types of brainstorming methods for various topics.

Analytics Brainstorming

The current situation is being analyzed with the aid of tools such as mind mapping, reverse brainstorming, SWOT analysis, Five Whys, Gap Filling, and Diverse Analysis.

Quiet Brainstorming

Collaborative brainstorming methods such as brain-netting (online brainstorming), slip writing, and other techniques are utilized when members are unable to meet in person, allowing for the sharing of ideas and finding the best possible solution.

Role Play Brainstorming

Some common examples of intentional perspective-taking are reverse thinking, role storming, and figure storming.

5. Powerful Free Brainstorming Tools

Once you understand the primary objective of brainstorming, you may begin utilizing it. To simplify matters, I have compiled a list of three commonly used brainstorming tools for you to experiment with.

#1 EdrawMind

michelle yeoh filming career

EdrawMind is a solution provided by Edraw that is compatible with various platforms including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux. Additionally, an online version of the application is available for use without requiring any downloads.

  • EdrawMind offers over 700 clip art options to enhance brainstorming activities.
  • Additionally, there are pre-made themes and templates accessible for efficient time management.
  • The platform includes a brainstorming mode specifically designed for team collaboration and idea-sharing.
  • The tool is frequently utilized for collaborative brainstorming due to its cloud integration and accessibility across multiple desktop and mobile platforms.

#2 Google Docs

brainstorming on google docs

Many individuals are acquainted with Google Docs, yet they rarely take advantage of its capabilities. It allows for basic mind mapping or idea brainstorming, which can then be shared with others.

  • The integration of Google Sheets and Docs enables efficient use of accurate data.
  • As the tools are offered at no cost, they can be utilized by anyone without incurring expenses.
  • The service includes automatic uploading to Google Drive and convenient sharing options.
  • There are several fundamental tools available for creating mind maps.

#3 Visual Thesaurus

brainstorming on visual thesaurus

This online tool serves as a visual representation of a theasaurus, as indicated by its name. While it may not aid in generating significant ideas, it does provide a visual link between words.

  • The tool generates a spider map that displays the word's connections to other words.
  • The primary purpose of the online application is to assist with word selection and enhance one's vocabulary.
  • The option to share the word maps via email or with friends is available.
  • Limited features for brainstorming.

6. How to Brainstorm with EdrawMind

Brainstorming is an essential part of the creative process, whether you're working alone or as part of a team. EdrawMind is a powerful brainstorming tool that helps you to generate and organize ideas easily and effectively. With its user-friendly interface and a range of features, EdrawMind makes brainstorming a breeze. In this part, we'll teach you how to brainstorm with EdrawMind, so you can make the most of this powerful tool and unlock your team's full creative potential.

Step1 -Establish the desired outcome

Before beginning, familiarize yourself with the subject on which you will be brainstorming and establish a clear objective. If there is an issue, ensure that it is unambiguously defined and communicated to all parties involved.

Step2 -Focus on working on EdrawMind

To begin, open EdrawMind on your device and access the canvas. You may choose to utilize a pre-made brainstorming template and enable brainstorming mode. Additionally, there are various vectors available to enhance your illustration.

Step3 -Proceed to expand your horizons and discover new things

During a brainstorming session, you can include ideas from your team members in the illustration. Concentrate on the challenges, how to solve them, and enhance existing ideas. Finally, you can save the illustration and export it in the desired format.

7. Conclusion

Brainstorming is a collaborative method of generating ideas in a group setting, involving diverse people sharing ideas freely to produce a large quantity of options. It follows a structured approach with techniques to enhance creativity, such as mind mapping, and aims to unlock creative potential to solve complex problems.


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How to Find the Right Idea: The Four Rules of Brainstorming

How to Find the Right Idea: The Four Rules of Brainstorming

Brainstorming is the all-time classic method for generating creative ideas. But instead of waiting for a spontaneous flash of inspiration, there are some rules you should follow, especially in a group. Find out more about the four basic rules of brainstorming.

Did you know that the word brainstorming is derived from the phrase "using the brain to storm a problem"? The goal is to find an optimal solution to a problem through intensive creative thinking - and preferably together in a group. Today, brainstorming is one of the classic creativity techniques. Whether in a meeting or when planning a private birthday party - brainstorming takes place in all areas of life and already exists in many different versions and variants. To ensure that the creative method does not become too time consuming, it is important to observe a few rules. In this article you will find out what you need to pay attention to.

1. Every idea is a good idea

The first rule is the of the most important one. There is no room for criticism in brainstorming. For the best end result, it is important that everyone in the group feels comfortable and has no inhibitions or shame about sharing their ideas. So during the process, there is no evaluation of ideas or interjections from other participants. This applies to both verbal and nonverbal feedback. Sentences such as "That doesn't make sense right now." or "That can never be implemented." slow down the creative flow of the group. During brainstorming, it is allowed to think in all directions. Discussions take place afterwards in the evaluation phase but are prohibited during the brainstorming phase. Be sure to create the right atmosphere, otherwise many ideas will remain unspoken, including perhaps the best ones.

2. Quantity instead of quality

The second rule picks up where the first rule left off. As mentioned before, the brainstorming phase is initially about thinking in all directions. Even if a flash of inspiration seems outlandish at first, it can provide further food for thought as the brainstorming process continues. The more ideas that come up initially, the better. Even if you're not sure whether your idea makes sense or is appropriate, throw it out there for now. To avoid confusion and ensure that no suggestion is forgotten, all contributions should be immediately recorded visually, for example in the form of mind maps.

3. No copyright

An important element of brainstorming is the group. The more diverse the participants, the more diverse the ideas that come out. Everyone goes into brainstorming with different ideas, associations and attitudes. And that's what makes a good brainstorming session. Where one person's horizon is limited, another person's creative thinking is just beginning. It's important to work with each other and not against each other, because the goal is to find the best solution as a team. Therefore, rely on the swarm intelligence of your group. Spinning on the ideas of others is not only desirable, but also an important aspect of brainstorming. The ego of the individual must be put aside in the process, even if this may mean that in the end your idea is considered a success for the group.

4. Good moderation is key

Although we described in rule number 2 how important it is to think in all possible directions and also sometimes around corners, you must not get lost in mental labyrinths. This starts with the initial question. What is the goal of this brainstorming session? What solution are we aiming for? What problem do we want to solve? For this reason, choose a moderator for your brainstorming session who will guide the group and, if necessary, get it back on track. The moderator also has the task of collecting all the ideas for the group and also determines when the process of creative brainstorming is complete.

Read also further articles on the topic of creative brainstorming:

  • Employee-Led Innovation (1): Advantages of In-House Idea Development
  • Employee-Led Innovation (2): Innovation Labs and Open Innovation
  • Employee-Led Innovation (3): Promote Creativity Using These Techniques
  • Employee-Led Innovation (4): IdeaSedCard and Pitching Contest
  • Employee-Led Innovation (5) – Innovation Digging for Fresh Ideas
  • Employee-Led Innovation (6) – The Walt Disney Method for Idea Development
  • Joint Idea Development and Brainstorming Meetings with the Catchball Method
  • Idea Generation: Brainwriting is the New Brainstorming [Infographic]
  • Mind Mapping – Map out Your Projects

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Techniques For Effective Brainstorming

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will…

Techniques For Effective Brainstorming

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still have one apple each. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas,” said Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw, who believed that putting ideas together gives you more food for thought.

Exchange of ideas or brainstorming is a powerful technique used by organizations, groups and individuals to create new and meaningful ideas by sharing and discussing them. It can also be used to refine existing ideas, solve problems and encourage collaboration within teams.

Brainstorming sessions are common in organizations that have an informal organizational structure. Traditional organizations with a hierarchical structure prefer a top-down approach when it comes to generating ideas. But organizations that prefer to get everyone on the same page enjoy the benefits of brainstorming sessions.

You can deploy multiple brainstorming methods to achieve your goals. Find out more about brainstorming and learn about its various examples and strategies.

What Is Brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a group activity where everyone comes together to discuss strategies for growth and improvement. You can exchange ideas, share important information and use these meetings as informal catch-up sessions with your co-workers.

Here’s an example:

Say, you work in the design team of a consumer goods company. Your organization is launching a new product and your team is responsible for packaging. Now, your manager will most likely schedule a brainstorming session where you can play around with potential designs. You come up with a sustainable way to package your products but aren’t sure about the cost.

So, the research and development head informs you of the budget and possible strategies for implementation. By the end of the meeting, everyone’s up to speed about their tasks with respect to packaging, budget and rollout.

You may find several examples of brainstorming in your organization. These sessions are usually lively because each member wants to contribute to the discussion. But this could also be one of the reasons why some members don’t get a chance to share their ideas.

Drawbacks Of Brainstorming In Groups

Brainstorming is not without its set of problems. As is the case with group activities, there’s a chance that someone might get overlooked during the meeting or discussion. Here are some of the drawbacks of brainstorming:

Some members may never get a chance to speak up and put their ideas on the table

The session can get too chaotic, leading to inconclusive results

Group sessions can be intimidating for those who work better alone

There’s a chance that you stray off the topic, wasting both time and effort

These sessions are informal—usually without an agenda—which can be detrimental as members may not know what’s expected of them

Group Brainstorming Vs Individual Brainstorming

Brainstorming is customarily a group activity, but individuals can also brainstorm ideas. If you are someone who gets their best ideas in a quiet place, individual brainstorming may be ideal for you. This way, you can do your research, prepare a solid plan and share it when the time comes. You will have more room to think and time to cover all your bases.

Group brainstorming sessions often inevitably focus on a few condensed ideas, overlooking contributions by individual members. This can lead your team to miss out on key ideas and solutions.

You can use your time efficiently to come up with great ideas and effective strategies that you can then convey to your team.

Different Brainstorming Methods

There are several ways to bring the team together and bounce ideas off each other. You can use this time wisely to come up with creative solutions to complex problems or develop new strategies for brand promotion. Depending on your team, organization and industry, you can implement different brainstorming methods to get the best results.

Here are effective ways to brainstorm for groups and individuals:


Brainwriting is an upgraded technique to share ideas and come up with solutions. This is an even more productive way to generate ideas where each person writes down what they think before sharing it with the team. Brainwriting is an effective method because no one gets interrupted. You don’t get cut off by someone else shouting their views at you. You can take your time to jot down your ideas without the pressure to satisfy others. Brainwriting is especially ideal for brainstorming sessions to encourage creativity in groups.

Mind Mapping

The children’s vocabulary game ‘pass the story’ starts with “Once upon a time…”. Then, each child builds on this phrase by adding lines. Mind mapping is a similar strategy where one member throws in a general idea, which leads to connecting sub-ideas. The first idea may not be the perfect one but it still ignites a row of potential ideas. It’s effective because it jolts your creativity by giving you a certain direction. Visual representations of a mind map are often used when you are dealing with extensive research. It helps to filter information and categorize it.

Stepladder Technique

The stepladder technique is an effective decision-making strategy that was developed in 1992. It’s suited for smaller groups of five or six members. Here, two members are invited to a room to brainstorm, with a facilitator present. Then, a third member enters and shares his or her ideas before being introduced to the ideas shared by the other two members. Brainstorming continues this way until everyone is in the room. This technique promotes new and fresh ideas that aren’t influenced by others.


Visualization is a strategy where each member is asked to picture their ideas. It gives everyone a starting point to build upon. Visualization can be a stepping stone to successful ideas, especially in product design. It’s also helpful when you are trying to improve existing strategies. You can also turn it into an activity. For instance, the first person can be asked to draw an outline. Each subsequent member then adds something to it. By the time it reaches the last person, you will likely have a working model.

Virtual Brainstorming

This method is ideal for organizations that work with remote employees located in different cities or even countries or if team members are working from home. You can either work on a Google doc or pick a virtual communication tool like Microsoft Teams to start an idea chain. This way everyone can stay connected. Changes can be seen in real-time so there’s no question of delay. Following up with meetings for ideation and implementation completes the process.

How To Brainstorm

Now that you are familiar with effective brainstorming strategies, let’s explore a few ways to improve your brainstorming sessions.

Remember to set the timer right at the beginning because brainstorming sessions tend to run for hours. If everyone talks for more than 30 minutes, you may be looking at day-long brainstorming sessions.

Encourage everyone to take the floor so that no one feels left out. Give everyone a chance to put their ideas on the table before focusing on a select few. You may find real gems among generic ideas.

Supplement your ideas with visual aids like images, videos and prototypes. In informal sessions like brainstorming, visuals can help you get your point across more effectively. It’s also a respite from the textual information overload .

Don’t discredit ideas because they seem expensive, complex or too eccentric. A brainstorming session is the first stage in ideation. Take everything you can get from these meetings before filtering anything out.

Keep track of everything that’s being said, so you don’t miss out on key ideas or information. Ask one person to take down the minutes or record the session and transcribe it later. Sometimes, great ideas get lost in conversation.

The more ideas everyone shares, the better your chances of finding something that works. Brainstorming is the perfect way to promote team creativity and build team dynamics . It gives everyone a chance to share their thoughts and opinions. You can use this opportunity to put your best foot forward and work wonders with your team.

Learn more about strategies for brainstorming in groups—and individually—with Harappa Education’s Unleashing Creativity course. Our high-impact online course is designed to encourage creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. You will learn about creativity in groups with important concepts like brainwriting. Being creative will help you develop diverse thinking and come up with effective solutions for problem-solving.

Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics related to the THINK Habit such as Creative Thinking and  Design Thinking and develop ways to get your creative juices flowing.


  • Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning
  • Instructional Guide


Brainstorming is a strategy used to generate a number of ideas to help solve a particular problem. The technique has been around for over 70 years and is still used today to engage students in solving a range of problems.

Techniques vary but there is a general structure to follow when developing brainstorming sessions. After the problem or issue is presented, students are organized into groups to brainstorm all possible ideas which could solve the problem. Discussion of these ideas takes place after the brainstorming session ends, usually after a defined period of time. Each idea will be discussed and considered, some ideas will be eliminated, and a final list will be ranked for possible use as a solution toward solving the problem.

Brainstorming is a cooperative approach in which a number of people collectively agree upon a solution after all of their ideas are brought forth and discussed.

It is important to plan the brainstorming session before implementing it in the classroom. As outlined below, you will need to consider the strengths, challenges and barriers when designing the session.

Planning a Brainstorming Session

1. state the problem or issue..

  • Avoid preparing students by giving them the problem or issue—you don’t want them to think about the topic beforehand. Brainstorming sessions are meant to be spontaneous and creative. Provide students with the problem/topic that is new to them and one that challenges their current level of knowledge on the issue.
  • State the problem/topic as a question which is concise and to the point. State the problem/topic succinctly yet loose enough to encourage more idea generation. A stated problem which is too succinct may be difficult to understand and one which is too limiting may restrict creative ideas.
  • In what ways might we improve product X?
  • What are the characteristics of X?
  • What is it about X that sets it apart from other Xs?
  • How can we do A and B?

2. Identify the roles of all students in the group.

  • Often one student acts as the group facilitator who records all generated ideas, encourages participation, prevents negative remarks, and watches the time.
  • All other group members are to be collaborative, respectful, and cooperative.
Provide students with the problem/topic that is new to them and one that challenges their current level of knowledge on the issue.

3. Explain the guidelines of the brainstorming session (the DOs and DON’Ts).

Stress that all ideas are welcome and even ideas which are perceived as “out there,” “funny or silly,” or “weird” can lead to creative solutions.
  • During the session there is to be no criticism or evaluation of ideas which could inhibit contributions.
  • Encourage the group to relax and be enthusiastic about the process.
  • Encourage use of items such as squish balls, pipe cleaners, and other gadgets to create a relaxed environment.
  • Everyone must participate, even those students who tend not to contribute in class discussions. All voices are to be heard and everyone must contribute ideas.
  • No one student can dominate the brainstorming session by shouting over the others or contributing meaningless solutions.
  • Encourage students to not delve on one idea for too long.

4. Keep the group number group manageable (8-12 people works well).

  • Generally, more people in a group can lead to more ideas being generated. However, it may be difficult manage large groups in a classroom setting. Experiment to see what works well in your own courses.
  • Too many people could intimidate those who tend not to participate from offering their ideas.

5. Create a relaxed environment which is supplied with adequate workspace and materials and free from distractions.

  • Provide necessary tables, chairs, paper and writing instruments, white board and markers, flip chart, or concept mapping software such as Inspiration® or SMART Ideas™.
  • Provide background music (unless students find it distracting).
  • Ask students to refrain from annoying mannerisms such as leg swinging, gum chewing, and pen twirling which can interfere with other students’ concentration.
  • Announce that all cell phones and electronic devices be turned off.
Ideally, more people in a group can lead to more ideas being generated.

6. Create heterogenic groups.

Groups should consist of students who vary in experiences, backgrounds, knowledge and academic disciplines.
  • A varied group of students will suggest more varied and unique ideas and suggestions.

7. Rank the generated ideas and suggestions.

  • After the designated time frame is over, students should begin to evaluate and rank all of the ideas generated during the brainstorming session. Suggest that students create a list of criteria used to evaluate the ideas. They should work toward a final list of three to five highly possible solutions to the problem.
  • Criteria should be given scores, with 5 being a perfect score to 0 which would indicate that the idea does not meet any of the criteria.
  • Sticky notes are helpful and can be moved when chunking and categorizing ideas.
  • Criteria also can be established before the actual brainstorming begins.

8. Review the brainstorming session.

  • It is important to provide some form of follow-up to the brainstorming session as a sort of follow-through to support student effort. Even if their suggested solutions are not used, it’s good practice to provide feedback. Thanking the students for their efforts will prove to them that their work is valued, and encourage them to participate in a future brainstorming activity.
  • Statement of the original problem or issue
  • Criteria and scale used to evaluate the brainstorming ideas
  • All ideas generated during the brainstorming session
  • Criteria and rating scales used to evaluate the generated ideas
  • Final rated items and their scores
  • Relevant comments and further ideas provided by students during the rating process
  • How final rated items are used (provide feedback with explanation if the final rated items are not used)
It is important to provide some form of follow-up to the brainstorming session as a sort of follow-through to support student effort.

Strengths of Brainstorming

  • Provides a quick and easy class activity. Brainstorming sessions can be effectively used in the classroom. However, they do require meaningful planning time for ultimate success.
  • Contributes to classroom collective power. Brainstorming sessions allow individual students’ voices to become one with the group’s voice. The final ideas are generally identified through consensus.
  • Creates a student-centered activity. Students direct the group in which they generate their own ideas, develop rating criteria, and are responsible for group dynamics.
  • Supports learning in a relaxed environment. Students are able to collaborate in a relaxed, informal learning environment.
  • Strengthens problem-based learning. Brainstorming is a problem-solving activity where students build on or develop higher order thinking skills.
  • Encourages creative thought. Brainstorming encourages students to think creatively (out of the box), encouraging all students to share their ideas, no matter how far “out there” they may seem.

Challenges of Brainstorming

  • Keeping the session from being just a chat session. The moderator should direct the session to keep students on task.
  • Ensuring students collaborate rather than compete with one another when generating ideas. Walk around the room and listen for inappropriate group behavior.
  • Encouraging students to build on each other’s ideas to help them build their critical thinking skills.
  • Getting “buy-in” or acceptance from those who have participated in brainstorming who have never seen their ideas brought forth and acted upon. Work forward from this point with any student who may be in this category and remark on their contribution both to them personally, their group and to the whole class.
  • Getting quiet or independent students to actively participate. Explain that as part of this course all students are expected to bend a little which may have them participating in activities which might make them uncomfortable. Never force someone who is adamant about a particular situation. Instead, coax those who are hesitant at first by creating a trusting and caring classroom environment from the beginning of the semester. This approach can help students be more accepting of change and those who tend to feel uncomfortable working with others.
  • Helping groups to move forward if they are “stuck” and not able to generate ideas. Reconvene the group to review the problem or issue or provide an example of a possible solution.
  • Reaching consensus. Getting students to reach consensus becomes less of a problem if all students are given equal time to provide input, feel comfortable as a valued member of the group and are respected for their points-of-view.

Brainstorming sessions can be a useful strategy to encourage genuine collaboration and interaction in the classroom. Putting together a well-stated problem and careful planning strategies can lead to meaningful idea generation and idea building which can be used in solving problems or addressing specific course-related issues.

Baumgartner, J. (2005). Key factors to successful brainstorming. http://www.jpb.com/creative/keyfactors.php

Elkenberry, K. (2007). Brainstorming strategies: Seven questions that spur better solutions. http://www.sideroad.com/Meetings/brainstorming-strategies.html

Selected Resources

Baumgartner, J. (n.d.). The complete guide to managing traditional brainstorming events. http://www.jpb.com/creative/brainstorming.pdf

Maricopa Community Colleges (2001). Brainstorming. http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/authoring/studio/guidebook/brain.html 

Storm, J. (2004). 10 deadly brainstorming ruts that kill innovation. https://www.brainstormnetwork.org/articles/10-BrainStorming-Ruts.pdf

Creative Commons License

Suggested citation

Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2012). Brainstorming. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide

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The brainstorm method is a semi-structured creative group activity, used most often in ad-hoc business meetings to come up with new ideas for innovation or improvement. Members of the group are encouraged to put forward ideas about a problem and how it may be solved, in order to generate as many ideas as possible, even if they are not always usable alternatives. The idea behind it is that a group of people can achieve a higher (synergy) level of creativity than the sum of the participants separately.

Three main rules for a successful brainstorm session are:

1. Participants should be encouraged to come up with a much ideas as possible, however wild they are (there are no bad ideas),

2. No judgment should be passed on any idea until the end of the session (whether negative or positive), and

3. Participants should be encouraged to build on each others ideas, creating unlikely combinations and taking each one in unexpected directions.

Some additional tips for a successful brainstorm session are:

- Use an experienced (external?) facilitator

- Identify a precise topic to be discussed

- No more than 8-10 people in one session, if there are more participants split up the brainstorm and report back to each other afterwards

- Make somebody write everything down

- Evaluate the ideas in 2 steps: A. define the criteria B. score the results on the criteria

- At the end of the B session, discuss the steps needed to implement the ideas. If this is complicated, do another brainstorming session on how to implement the ideas.

Although brainstorms are used frequently worldwide for over 70 years, the effectiveness of them for generating new ideas is debatable. Brainstorms are most effective to generate a lot of ideas in a short timeframe. Group processes are also effective for evaluating existing ideas. However (bright) individuals are said to be better at creating original and higher-quality ideas.

Book: Michael Michalko - Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity)

Book: Jason Rich - Brain Storm: Tap into Your Creativity to Generate Awesome Ideas and Remarkable Results

Compare with Brainstorming:  Groupthink   |  Six Thinking Hats   |  Scenario Planning   |  Game Theory   |  Root Cause Analysis   |  Dialectical Inquiry   |  Theory of Constraints   |  Force Field Analysis

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Brainstorming versus brainwriting.

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Young professionals brainstorming on glass wall with adhesive notes in co-working office

Among the most dreaded events in business are pointless meetings that go on endlessly. Even more dreaded are meetings called to brainstorm new ideas because they often descend beyond pointlessness into utter chaos.

The underlying reason that chaos occurs can be found in the bestselling book called “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman. Professor Kahneman identifies Fast Thinking as System One, in which the mind “operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of control”; and Slow Thinking as System Two in which, “the conscious reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices, and decides what to think about and what to do.”

Businesspeople spend their waking hours striving to function in System Two, i.e. , getting things done. Unfortunately, their Fast Thinking minds get in the way. So, the correct way to generate new ideas is to allow Fast Thinking to run its course, but that feels uncomfortable to people who are looking for a quick solution. That’s why brainstorming goes awry.

The quest, therefore, is to make brainstorming efficient.

The news website Axios—and the subject of a previous Forbes post about their Smart Brevity ® service that helps facilitate succinctness in communications—has come up with a solution. In a recent blog post they recommend “Brainwriting,” a method originally developed by “a German marketing professional named Bernd Rohrbach in 1968” and currently promoted by Eean Crawford, an associate professor at the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business. Crawford says, “‘Instead of sitting in a group and shouting out ideas, you write them down individually—and then discuss them as a group.’”

In a Time Magazine article , Wharton professor and bestselling author, Adam Grant preferred brainwriting over conventional brainstorming because it solves the problem of “people [who] bite their tongues due to ego threat…and conformity pressure.”

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There is one other simple technique to make either brainstorming or brainwriting sessions run efficiently: designate a facilitator and set the vital ground rule that all ideas—whether written or called out—go through the facilitator. That person can be a peer, a supervisor, or even an independent party, such as an outsourced coach. If the group does brainwriting, the facilitator can collect the written submissions and open them to discussion one at a time. If the group does conventional brainstorming—speaking out—the facilitator can recognize who speaks and avoid the chaos.

Designating a facilitator restores both the interpersonal and communal aspect of any meeting. And that is what meetings are supposed to achieve in the first place. The immediate benefits of having a facilitator are:

· By having one person speak at a time, you avoid distracting crosstalk

· By giving each idea its own discussion, no ideas are lost in side discussions

· Because the facilitator is neutral, no one’s ego is challenged

· The facilitator’s neutrality evens out any hierarchy

The Axios story goes on to ask whether brainwriting works in remote meetings and the answer is a resounding “yes.” It quotes Crawford again saying, “What’s more important is the structure rather than the location.” To which I add, given the limitations of virtual meetings—monaural sound, overlooked mute buttons, miniature images, irregular transmission speeds, and most important of all, the absence of communal interaction—having a facilitator as the focal point for all ideas assures efficiency.

So when it’s time for your team to assemble to explore and develop new ideas, whether in person or virtual, let it rip. Let the Fast Thinking run its course but run it through a facilitator. You’re more likely to end up with gems than groans.

Jerry Weissman

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