What is Brainstorming?


If you’ve worked for a corporation or a communications agency for any length of time, or attended seminars and workshops, in one form or the other you have come into contact with brainstorming, coming up with fresh new ideas, where we interact with others to build upon them.

Brainstorming is a method for enhancing creativity in groups that calls for heightened expressiveness, postponed evaluation, quantity rather than quality, and deliberate attempts to build on earlier ideas.

In advertising or public relations agencies, the CEO or creative director may bring employees together to work on solutions to a client assignment. And in workshops, a facilitator may pose a problem for you to attempt to solve with people you hadn’t met until half an hour ago. At companies, Human Resources may gather together employees from all departments and ranks to sit around and let fly with ideas and possible solutions to a problem: ways to improve morale, for example; or suggestions to grow the corporate culture.

Brainstorming—coming up with fresh new ideas, where we interact with others to build upon them—has the potential to become an exhilarating experience for everybody involved. If brainstorming is properly executed, participants can feel that they’ve contributed and received appreciation for it. Facilitators can be pleased at the success of the session and the number of ideas that have been shared. And employers may observe a cost-effective methodology that can enhance both the company and its morale, while growing corporate team players.

For many people, traditional brainstorming, which is usually conducted as a results-directed exercise, is an excruciating experience. We stress over whether we will come up with satisfactory answers, or will merely humiliate ourselves. Or we remain silent, nodding thoughtfully as others answer. If directly challenged for our ideas, we mumble that we haven’t as yet thought of anything, even if we have. We sit through the long silences that normally occur, waiting for the session to end.

It’s not our fault. We’ve never been thought an effective way to brainstorm.

Four Rules to Brainstorm Effectively

Brainstorming is a technique for using groups to increase creativity. The method was developed by Alex Osborn (1957), an advertising executive, to help his colleagues identify novel, unusual, and imaginative solutions. The technique requires an open discussion of ideas, and is guided by four basic rules:

  1. Be expressive — Express any idea that comes to mind, no matter how strange, wild, or fanciful. Do not be constrained or timid; freewheel whenever possible.
  2. Postpone evaluation — Do not evaluate any of the ideas in any way during the idea-generation phase. All ideas are valuable.
  3. Seek quantity — The more ideas, the better. Quantity is desired, for it increases the possibility of finding an excellent solution.
  4. Piggyback ideas — Because all ideas belong to the group, members should try to modify and extend others’ ideas whenever possible. Brainstorming is conducted in a group, so that participants can draw from one another.

Brainstorming involves harnessing synergy—we leverage our collective thinking towards a variety of potential solutions. However, having boundless freedom presents challenges.

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 feel fearless about speaking up. Likewise, a warm-up activity can cure brainstorming “constipation”—e.g., asking participants to list ways the world would be different if metal were like rubber.

Challenges of Effective Brainstorming

When you brainstorm in a group, there are chances that you may not be able to produce the most creative ideas and you may end up with fewer ideas than an individual brainstorming session. Some the of the challenges that groups face in a brainstorming session are addressed below.

Production Blocking

Brainstorming sessions allow one person to talk at a time, so there is a possibility that another person who just had an idea may lose track or forget his idea by the time it is their turn to talk. When you sit with a team it gets difficult to focus on the generation of ideas when at the same time you have to listen to other ideas as well.

Collaborative Fixation

When a team sits for a brainstorming session, most of the times, the session may be directed to just one avenue instead of exploring all avenues because the members may be led towards one path only and they may confirm their ideas to the ideas produced by the other members. This does away with the creation of wild ideas and free thinking which are considered to be one of the pillars of brainstorming.

Evaluation Apprehension

The fear of being evaluated for the ideas that you produce may in many ways inhibit your ability to produce ideas. This can also stop members from talking about ideas that may sound bad to them.

Overcoming this apprehension is difficult but the success of brainstorming relies on individuals being able to think beyond such fears.

Social Matching

Members tend to match the rate at which they produce ideas and their ability to produce great ideas with the others in the team. While it may work to their benefit if other members in the team are producing many ideas, their productivity may reduce if others in the team were not producing enough ideas either.


The reality of a budget has the ability to sway many ideas. There is no doubt about the fact that every company has a budget to solve an issue. Whether you work for a corporate titan or for a startup, you will always have a budget. But it is not necessary that a brainstorming session is swayed by the budget that you are dealing with.

Allow the team members to come up with as many ideas as they can without the constraints of a budget. These ideas can then be formulated into something that works for your budget or it can work as a springboard for new ideas that will be more budget friendly.

Understanding the challenges that you may come up with help you know a subject in a better way. This is why it is important that you know what can come up when you guide a brainstorming session so that you can figure ways in which you can handle the challenges effectively.

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  • References
    • Brainstorming Reinvented: A Corporate Communications Guide to Ideation What Is Brainstorming, Anyway? (p. 16) By Linda Conway Correll

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