The Brainstorm



This is the classic, the “antique” for coming up with new ideas. It comes right from the heart of Ideas Land, on Madison Avenue in New York. Brainstorming was first introduced by Alex Osborn, the founder of the Creative Education Foundation and co-founder of the ad firm, BBDO.

Brainstorming has become a commonly used word in the English language as a generic term for Creative Thinking. The basis of Brainstorming is generating ideas in a group situation, based on the principle of suspending judgment.

I don’t want to scoff at this tool because it is still a fairly effective method to yield medium results, but it is simply not enough. In the 30’s it was probably great, because Madison Avenue Execs may never have stretched their minds before and they were running out of road fast with fresh ideas. But today creatives need breakthrough ideas, even true innovation if they are going to make a difference. The benchmark is simply so much higher that the thinking has to be more specific, more refined. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s go take a look at THE BRAINSTORM in more detail!


1. Write down the problem to be explored in a short statement, beginning with “In what ways might I…”

2. Choose one central “Recorder” of all information, or allow each individual to capture their own ideas.

3. Allow the group to vocalize ideas for about three minutes, around this statement.

4. Spend “Quiet Time”, while individuals then think on the ideas generated, for about three minutes.

5. Then exchange ideas for another three minutes and wrap the session.

(Alternative: The group could choose to go around the table, each taking turns to build on what his/her predecessor came up with. They can decide together if passes are allowed, but that is just a cop-out, right? There are no bad ideas!)

What’s Good:

Firstly, the concept behind the departure of the “In what ways might I…”statement is very good. It sets the scene for multiple answers or solutions to the problem, instead of simply saying “How can I…”, which may cause thinkers to stop at the first reasonable idea – having answered the query…

In broader terms, I think the best thing about this method is that it puts a group of people together to share the same point of view, the same intention. That aligns a group of brains to think in the same direction, and it is probably the basis of Dr. Edward de Bono’s Parallel Thinking as we have come to understand it.

And finally, suspending judgement is also a key concept which finds itself at the heart of just about any thinking we can do; Creativity can be a very vulnerable act. It is true that the first time we “speak” an idea, (an abstract concept), it may not come out right and that is the most critical place where it can die – simply because we don’t fully comprehend what the idea wants to become.



Although a perfectly usable tool, regular brainstorming generally falls short of delivering breakthrough ideas. The methodology may be rock-solid and it is the basis for some great thinking, but it needs a bit of refinement. Bad influences or negative thinking can easily derail efforts if the session isn’t managed with great care and often times, not everyone in the group collaborates freely. In the final analysis this tool is a bit cumbersome in time management and group focus.

But do give it a whirl and see what results you get from it; then watch this space for some more amazing Idea Generation tools!