Brainstorming is a creative thinking technique that involves generating ideas, solutions, or innovations to a particular problem in a group setting. It’s one of many methods of ideation—the process of coming up with new ideas—and it’s core to the design thinking process. The goal is generate a large number of ideas in a short period of time, and to encourage creative thinking and problem-solving.
What is brainstorming?
We've all been there: 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.
But what exactly is "brainstorming?" Merriam-Webster defines it as "the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem."
Brainstorming has a long history, with roots tracing back to 1948 and advertising executive Alex F. Osborn's book "Your Creative Power." Since then, it has become a common technique used by businesses to come up with creative solutions to a variety of problems.
Why is it important?
If we want to achieve new goals, we can't just stick to what we already know. To come up with truly innovative ideas, we need to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. One way to do this is to start with a wide range of options, including some bold and unconventional ideas, that we can further develop and test. By starting with an abundance of options, we can challenge ourselves to think creatively and explore new possibilities.
Brainstorming is an effective way to:
- Generate a large number of ideas (quickly!)
- Expand your portfolio of alternatives
- Get people unstuck
- Inject insights from a broader group
- Build enthusiasm and team alignment
- Solve tricky problems
- Improve team collaboration
Guidelines for running a successful brainstorm
Adapted from Ideo's 7 Simple Rules of Brainstorming, here are a list of guidelines that you can use to ensure your brainstorm succeed
- Rule #1: Generate as many ideas as possible during the session: While it can seem counterintuitive to most of us, brainstorming is about quantity rather than quality. By placing the focus on getting as many ideas as possible, people are more willing to share things that they otherwise might write off as irrelevant or over the top. Generate as many ideas as possible within a set time frame, such as 100 ideas within a 60-minute session.
- Rule #2: No Judgment, all ideas are welcome: Brainstorming isn’t about critiquing ideas on the spot — it’s simply about generation. When we avoid critiscising ideas, we create the psychological safety (also known as as non-evaluation). The lack of immediate feedback empowers people to share ideas more openly without the fear of failure or disapproval. Maintain a judgment-free zone where ideas can flow freely and be built upon.
- Rule #3: Think big: During a brainstorming session, you want people to think big. That’s exactly why this principle (which you might hear called “freewheeling”) exists. It encourages more creative thinking, because people know that they’re not just allowed — but actually encouraged — to think outside of the box. Embrace unconventional and out-of-the-box notions. There may not be a significant difference between outrageous and brilliant ideas.
- Rule #4: People are encouraged to build on other ideas. Piggybacking (also known as the "yes, and" rule) encourages participants to build upon other people’s contributions. This creates a more collaborative atmosphere, where good ideas get even more traction.This creates a more collaborative atmosphere, where good ideas get even more traction. Try to use "and" instead of "but" to encourage positivity and inclusivity and to generate a large number of ideas.
- The Interaction Design Foundation’s course on Design Thinking discusses Brainstorming in depth
- Intercom shares insights into how they host their brainstorming workshops.
- Jonathan Courtney’s shares a framework for brainstorming products
- Ideo has 7 simple rules for effective brainstorming
- Mural's collection of brainstorming templates can make remote-first brainstorming more accessible to all. Free Online Brainstorming Tool for Collaboration | Mural
- Miro has created a list of 20 Brainstorming Techniques for Generating Better Ideas
- McKinsey conducted broaded research to uncover Seven steps to better brainstorming
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Brainstorm Template | Fellow.app
- 6 Brainstorming Tips for Social Innovators and Beyond