Want to come up with better ideas? Try brainstorming.

Photo by Hugo Rocha on Unsplash

Brainstorming can be beneficial to people in any role. Everyone can use more ideas. Not just more, but better, more creative ideas. Alex F. Osborn originally coined the term brainstorming in his 1953 book Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Thinking. The concept has been around for a while and has been refined over the years. Brainstorming has become an essential tool for coming up with a higher number of ideas. It’s part of the divergent phase of the creative process. Brainstorming helps you come out of your comfort zone and find real innovation.

So why brainstorm?

Todays business landscape requires quick thinking and constant evolution. Whether design is a focus or not, companies need to find new ideas to stay ahead of the competition. Brainstorming helps teams and individuals come up with a lot of ideas quickly. It helps promote collaboration and inclusiveness. It gains insight from a wider group and builds enthusiasm. In working to create unique deal toy dessgns, we work in groups of 2 or 3 to translate difficult concepts into the visual realm. To tackle large company projects, we brainstorm in groups of 5-10 so that we can be sure we capture every team members point of view. From larger systemic solutions, to smaller specific challenges, we often bring issues to the table for discussion. Every team member’s role is ultimately in service of our clients and satisfying our mission. These are just a few of the reasons to use brainstorming as a tool to generate more ideas.

Setting up for brainstorming

Brainstorming requires several things to be successful. You need a plan and a certain attitude. While brainstorming is great for free flowing ideas and building off of thoughts, it needs structure. It has to start from somewhere with a clear goal in mind. You’re not brainstorming for the fun of it. Setting ip is simple in theory, detailed in process.

Have a problem to solve
A challenge to conquer, an over arching goal.

Do your research
Find insight and inspiration as a starting point. Develop a brief, a strategy or both.

Be curious and open minded
Brainstorming can be difficult for people who want a pre-set solution. Be ready to go wide before you go deep. The sky is the limit.

Frame the problem with a “How might we” questions
This comes from the folks at IDEO. IDEO is “a global design company at the forefront of creating change through design”. “How might we” questions are open ended and help in several ways, they ask for multiple, descriptive answers to a problem, seed ideation and ensure collaboration. The questions offer focus, can be applied to anything and encourages divergent thinking. For example “How might we design a great deal toy for the pharmaceutical industry?” Or “How might we offer order delivery options during COVID -19?” or even “How might we plan a surprise party for Kevin?”. More on “How might we” statements here.

Have a positive attitude
Be encouraging and empathetic.

Rules for Brainstorming

Now that we are all set up, let’s get to it. The following is a list of seven rules for brainstorming from IDEO. They solve problems for a living, and have set up some very useful processes to help anyone towards the goal of coming up with great ideas. The following are 7 rules for running a great brainstorming session. You will need a moderator to make sure things stay on track.

Defer Judgement
Give people a comfortable space to come up with ideas. Help them feel safe. You want all voices to be heard. No such thing as stupid ideas at this point.

Encourage wild ideas
Shoot for the stars. Suggest envisioning things that might be possible without the constraints of technology, materials, or finances. You can always tone down later.

Build on the ideas of others
Be constructive. Aim for following up on ideas with “…and” instead of “…but”. Build on ideas, don’t tear them down.

Stay focused Remain on target. Divergence is great, but it can get out of hand. Gently keep the ideas flowing and conversation focused on the framed problem.

One conversation at a time Let one idea run its course before you build on it. Make sure all ideas are heard by everyone, as you never know where the great inspiration will come from. Everyone need to to take part.

Be visual
Sketch, draw, make pictures. Keep it simple, not fleshed out designs or prototypes, just visual representations of ideas. Get your right brain on.

Go for quantity
It’s a numbers game. Go for as many ideas as you can. They don’t have to be fully thought out, just come up with ideas and build off of those. Have fun with it.

There are a couple of other things to consider. Check titles at the door. This will stop people from naturally deferring to the leaders. Leaders should try to speak last. Encourage individual thought. Conformity can crush creativity. The moderator should impose time limits. Each person should be allowed 5 minutes, but try to keep the over all time under an hour. You want to keep people’s interest high. Be prepared to capture ideas. This is all a waste of time if you miss something great. With those things in mind you are ready to go. In the end you should have a nice collection of ideas to move forward with. After a brainstorming session, it’s time to reflect, gather feed back and decide what’s feasible, viable, desirable. You can always double back and run the process again if you have honed in on a good idea. Keep an open mind, show empathy and enjoy yourself and the ideas will flow.


Alex F. Osborn: Father of the Brainstorm

IDEO-Brainstorming – Rules & Techniques for Idea Generation

IDEO-5 Brainstorming Exercises for Introverts

9 Simple Tips For Leading Brilliant Brainstorms

Article originally published for Buttonwood.