Brainstorm Efficiently


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About this article

Posted by François Pirart  |  March 1st, 2014 at 11:34 am

Article on brainstorming and related techniques

Brainstorming is a creative technique helping to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of spontaneous ideas. The term was popularized in Alex Osborn’s book Applied Imagination in 1953. Brainstorming is now widely used across the globe in all types of organizations.

The Brainstorming technique isn’t without criticism and has its detractors. In fact, Michael Diehl and Wolfgang Stroebe demonstrated that group brainstorming could produce fewer ideas than individuals working separately.

Every process or technique has its downfalls and shortcomings. However it would be wrong to consider that everyone should work in confinement all the time instead of having the opportunity to listen to and to build on the ideas of others. Moreover, the problems related to brainstorming mentioned in several studies can generally be linked to problems in the preparation and management of the brainstorming sessions, or even with flaws in the research methodology itself (Isaksen, 1998).


To improve the efficiency of this creative technique, and avoid wasting time or taking bad decisions, brainstorming sessions have to be managed the right way. The brainstorming success depends on a combination of factors that can be partially controlled. Alex Osborn mentioned four original rules that contribute to "ideative efficacy," :

  • Don’t allow criticism.
  • Encourage wild ideas.
  • Go for quantity.
  • Combine and/or improve on others’ ideas.


Many practitioners, creative thinkers or organizations also share additional ideas on how to improve the brainstorming experience and results on the web. IDEO, an award-winning global design firm, added three more tips (read full article here) to the original four rules to improve the outcomes of the brainstormings:

  • Stay focused on the topic.
  • Focus on one conversation at a time.
  • Be Visual.


We will review several steps making for better brainstormings, but feel free to continue organizing sessions your own way if you noticed good results and if it leads to many new creative ideas. We are interested by your own thoughts on Brainstorming, and how you improve their efficiency in your own organization.

Structuring brainstormings activities often maximizes what is coming out of them. The following steps can help you conduct better brainstorming sessions:

  • Define Goals & State the Problem in advance

    Write down a brief description of the problem prior to the meeting and send it to the participants. Stay high level and don’t enter too much into details so that you don’t give any direction to the future brainstorming.If you have objective data helpful to understand of the problem, feel free to share it in advance as well. This way, everyone will have the same elements in hand beforehand.

  • Gather participants from as wide a range of disciplines

    Try to bring together a panel of people with a broad a range of experiences. This foster the ideation process and bring up more diverse set of ideas and opinions to the table. Brainstormings should give the opportunity for people with very different backgrounds and with various expertises to meet and learn from each others.

  • Stimulate Creativity

    A positive ambiance will always stimulate creativity. It’s hard to get anything out of a meeting when the participants are dragging their feet to get there. The reality is that meetings are often perceived to be boring because they’re repetitive or seen as unnecessary. Encourage an enthusiastic, uncritical attitude among brainstormers and encourage participation by all members of the team. Encourage them to have fun!

  • Ideate Individually in the beginning

    Creative ideas emerging from brainstorming sessions come both from the synergies in the group and from the minds of each participant individually. Before you start an open discussion on the problem and to share ideas, it is important to give some time to generate ideas individually. This allows you to gather everyone’s opinions, even the ones from the shy participants.

    If you had already defined the goals and the problem in advance (step 1), the participants could already have a list of ideas prepared before the meeting. Encourage them to write these down, and remind them not to exclude any ideas appearing to them as ridiculous or uncomplete.

    Generating ideas individually will allow the participants from very different backgrounds to share their own understanding of the problem and of the solutions without being influenced by the group. During the meeting, give 10 to 20 minutes to the participants to write their ideas on sticky notes in form of a word or a sentence.

    Each person should ideate in a free, simple and fast way. Ask them not to analyse everything they write down in depth, but rather to generate ideas that come naturally to their mind.

  • Share the ideas with the group

    Once the previous phase is over, each person can read off their ideas to the group. At this stage, just write down the various ideas on a whiteboard without discussing or critiquing any of them. If an idea is unclear, you may ask the participant to rephrase or complement it.

    Do not interpret , evaluate, censor or group any ideas or solution just yet. In fact, the ones that may appear silly or inappropriate at first can lead to creative ones in the following discussions.

  • Generate new ideas in group and Expand

    When all the ideas have been added to the board, the group can start exchanging views and discussing. This is the second idea generation phase.

    The participants should either try to expand upon ideas of others, or share any new ideas coming to their mind with the group. Rather than criticizing, participants should rather try to bounce of or build on ideas of others. Often what happens is that combining ideas will give a creative dimension to them.

    There are also many creative thinking techniques that can be use at this stage to boost with this group ideation phase : Scamper, the 5 Whys, the Six Thinking Hats…

  • Form categories and take a decision

    Regroup ideas that are connected into categories and remove, with consent of the group, ideas that are not resolving the problem. Once the groups are formed, the participants may express their feelings about the way the various grouped ideas address the problem. The evaluation can take place as a vote or a weighted analysis.

  • Synthesize

    An important, but often overlooked, step is to synthesize what ideas and decisions have been taken during the brainstorming and to shortly explain the process that led to them. That will allow people that did not take part in the Brainstorming to understand where the solutions came from, and will facilitate the new creative ideas to be shared with people around the organizations.