Brainstorming is the divergent thinking process of gathering a large number of ideas in a short amount of time, which you will parse and improve upon in future steps.
Commonly, it takes place on a piece of paper or large board where you can visually dump your ideas. However, it can also occur in your mind. It may also be either done individually or in groups (Al-Samarraie & Hurmuzan, 2018).
Definition of Brainstorming
The word brainstorming was first coined in the 1940s by advertising executive Alex F. Osbornn (Paulus & Kenworthy, 2019).
Osborn defined it as a way to generate a large number of ideas in a short amount of time without any criticism or judgement.
Importantly, brainstorming is about generating as many ideas as possible in order to help push through a plateau or brain block. Ideally, it will help bring out creativity and out-of-the-box thinking in order to generate fresh and innovative ideas (Litchfield, 2008).
One of the key benefits of brainstorming is that it allows an individual or group to think freely and suspend judgement of ideas.
This can lead to the creation and consideration of ideas that may not have been considered otherwise. Even a seemingly useless idea may lead to a fruitful breakthrough.
History of Brainstorming
While the act of brainstorming has likely been used for thousands of years, the term itself has its roots in the 1930s when Osborn, along with his colleagues at an advertising agency, began using group creativity sessions to generate ideas for their clients (Putman & Paulus, 2009).
With a new term coined, the concept became refined and made more explicit. Today, it has become a popular tool used in both organizations and people’s personal lives to generate new ideas and solve problems.
Popular ideas behind brainstorming have evolved over the years and brainstorming strategies have been adapted to suit different situations, industries, and needs (Paulus & Kenworthy, 2019).
For example, it can be used for anything from coming up with vacation ideas with your family to coming up with new product lines for large multinational corporations.
Stages of Brainstorming
The brainstorming process typically involves three stages: preparation, ideation, and evaluation (Paulus & Kenworthy, 2019).
- Preparation: The focus of the preparation stage should be on setting the rules, structure, and culture around the session. It may, for example, encourage team members to come to the team with sufficient background knowledge, and ensure all people in the group know the importance of creating a non-judgemental environment.
- Ideation: The ideation stage involves sharing ideas which will be added to the brainstorming notes, such as on a flipboard or shared screen during a group video call (Litchfield, 2008). This is where the actual idea generation takes place. Participants are encouraged to share their ideas knowing that there is ‘no silly idea’ at this point in time.
- Evaluation: With a wide range of ideas collected, the group needs to categorize, review, and select the most promising ideas. This may involve drawing connections between ideas, merging ideas together, and finding identifying problems with certain ideas. At this stage, it’s important to ensure the chosen ideas have alignment with the objective.
10 Examples of Brainstorming
Below are some possible situations in which brainstorming can be highly effective.
Example 1: Product Development
Brainstorming can be used to generate new product ideas or improve upon existing ones. For example, a team of designers, engineers, and marketers could brainstorm ideas for a new smartphone that incorporates cutting-edge technology and features. Importantly, the team should be composed of product market experts and, ideally, people with prior knowledge about issues with the current product iteration, consumer feedback, and gaps in the marketplace.
Example 2: Marketing Campaigns
Brainstorming is common in marketing and advertising, and in fact, the term was coined by a marketing professional.
Generally, this session would involve bringing together a team of creatives with good knowledge of the market as well as cutting-edge marketing techniques in order to come up with a campaign idea. For example, a team of marketers could brainstorm ideas for a new social media campaign that leverages the power of influencers to reach the audience.
Example 3: Brainstorming for a Novel
Brainstorming can be an excellent approach to improve writing techniques, especially when writing a novel.
In this situation, I would gather some fellow writers or personal tutors who have experience developing plots, characters and themes and go over the things that could work better in your novel.
By analyzing my plot structure and understanding my character’s traits based on their backstory, I could get valuable insight into how to make the story more engaging.
Example 4: Brainstorming for Business Strategic Plans
Brainstorming is an excellent way to devise strategic plans for higher-level business development.
It helps you visualize how your business may look like in the future while allowing feedback from team members involved in the development process to obtain insights from all departments.
A team of executives may get together around a single table with reports and data sheets explaining different growth areas of the company.
Example 5: Brainstorming New Classroom Ideas
Brainstorming is one of the best ways for teachers to develop new ideas for curriculum building and lesson planning.
Teachers should consider mingling with colleagues who have years teaching experience engaging students around different scenarios shaping them towards positive cognitive outcomes.
Example 6: Brainstorming Home Decor Projects
When renovating a home, brainstorming can help skyrocket creativity while considering factors like budget, style, and functionality.
Collaborating with an interior designer or friends who have taste in home decor and DIY projects can be useful in generating interesting ideas that match the requirements of the homeowner.
Example 7: Brainstorming for Event Planning
Brainstorming is an essential tool when it comes to event planning as it helps to identify key themes, vendors, catering, and decoration ideas.
The best part of brainstorming is involving event planners together with their clients in a room or a virtual hangout session to discuss their vision for the occasion and generate ideas in real-time.
Example 8: Brainstorming Personal Life Goals
Brainstorming can help you set achievable personal goals while shedding light on your desires.
At times like these having a life coach might come in handy who can incorporate exercises where you jot down all the things you desire either professionally or personally such as traveling to other countries or buying a new house.
See Also: A List of 151 Goals for Life
Example 9: Brainstorming UX Designs
In the development of digital products such as web applications or mobile apps brainstorming plays a key role.
Through group discussions between UX designers and developers they’ll emphasize ways of enhancing user experience by identifying areas where previous iterations had no success.
Example 10: Brainstorming Career Choices
Brainstorming can help young people finishing high school to create a roadmap towards the best career for them.
At this time of life, people usually don’t have a clear idea of the job they will do, but they may have a clear idea of what they are good at, what they enjoy doing, and the general direction they want to go (white collar, blue collar, etc.).
The process of deciding what to do may involve seeking out mentors or attending career fairs where people can offer guidance and support.
Techniques for Effective Brainstorming
There are several techniques that can be used to enhance the effectiveness of brainstorming sessions (Al-Samarraie & Hurmuzan, 2018). Generally, this involves putting in place clear group norms, including:
- Encouraging all participants to share their ideas
- Avoiding criticism and judgement
- Using visual aids to stimulate creativity
- Building on others’ ideas
- Combining ideas to create new solutions
- Setting a time limit to encourage rapid idea generation
Benefits of Brainstorming
The benefits of brainstorming are numerous. It can help people and organizations generate new ideas, solve complex problems, and make better decisions.
In the workplace, it can also improve team morale and strengthen team cohesion. By engaging individuals in idea generation, companies can create a culture of innovation and creativity.
Firstly, brainstorming plays a significant role in boosting innovation (Litchfield, 2008).
When we sit together and come up with different creative ideas, we tend to approach situations with new perspectives that we often overlook alone. Sometimes our minds can only go so far when left to its devices!
The act of bouncing thoughts off one another elevates creativity tremendously. Brainstorming as a group often produces new solutions that wouldn’t have surfaced otherwise (Al-Samarraie & Hurmuzan, 2018).
2. Problem Solving
Secondly, brainstorming is incredibly beneficial for problem-solving.
While we all face challenges in life, brainstorming can act as a beneficial tool for addressing and overcoming those issues.
When faced with a problem, having multiple people collaborate during the decision-making process leads to better outcomes than relying solely on one person’s point of view (Litchfield, 2008).
In addition, when each member contributes equally unique views and suggestions about possible solutions without dismissing others’ input or ideas, new strategies can arise which become successful approaches (Paulus & Kenworthy, 2019).
3. Team Morale and Cohesion
A side-effect of brainstorming as a group is that it can make a stronger group dynamic. Its key principles include inclusion, open-mindedness, and working together.
Coincidentally, this can also make work much more enjoyable!
Collaborating as a team creates cohesiveness within the company culture because all persons contribute towards achieving mutual goals rather than accomplishing solo achievements only related to their title or job description (Paulus & Kenworthy, 2019).
Support from team members through both triumphs and failures can increase mutual respect among colleagues for each other while creating social bonds.
4. Culture of Innovation
Lastly, creating a culture of innovation becomes achievable when utilizing brainstorming tasks regularly within the company environment.
Brainstorming can lead to creative solutions that would not be possible without the open-minded, free-flowing brainstorming process (Paulus & Kenworthy, 2019).
Challenges of Brainstorming
While brainstorming can be a highly effective tool for generating ideas and solutions, it is not without its challenges. Some common challenges include:
- Groupthink: where individuals conform to the group’s opinions and ideas (Putman & Paulus, 2009). This may happen if one dominant person leads the brainstorming session in a particular direction.
- Unequal Participation: some participants may dominate the discussion while others are minimally involved. Less experienced or peripheral members of the group may be pushed aside.
- Lack of Focus: a brainstorming session can become unfocused and start to lack direction. While creativity and open-mindedness is useful, the session may also drift away from its original goals and end up failing to be fit for purpose.
- Criticism and Judgement: depending on the group culture, ideas may be criticized or judged prematurely, which can undermine the purpose of brainstorming. This is where positive workplace culture is highly important (Litchfield, 2008).
- Not conducive to Convergent Thinking: brainstorming is a type of divergent thinking, where people try to come up with multiple solutions to one problem. This is only useful at certain times (Putman & Paulus, 2009). Often, we need to do the opposite: come up with one solution by bringing together multiple pre-determined answers.
Sometimes, it can be beneficial for individuals to brainstorm on their own before coming together to share their ideas as a group (in education, we call this the think-pair-share method).
Brainstorming is a powerful tool that can be used to generate new ideas, solve complex problems, and make better decisions. By understanding the process, techniques, and benefits of brainstorming, individuals and organizations can unlock their creative potential and drive innovation and growth. While it is not without its challenges, careful planning, facilitation, and participation can help avoid these pitfalls and lead to successful and productive brainstorming sessions.
Al-Samarraie, H., & Hurmuzan, S. (2018). A review of brainstorming techniques in higher education. Thinking Skills and creativity, 27, 78-91.
Litchfield, R. C. (2008). Brainstorming reconsidered: A goal-based view. Academy of Management Review, 33(3), 649-668.
Putman, V. L., & Paulus, P. B. (2009). Brainstorming, brainstorming rules and decision making. The Journal of creative behavior, 43(1), 29-40.
Paulus, P. B., & Kenworthy, J. B. (2019). Effective brainstorming. The Oxford handbook of group creativity and innovation, 287-386.
Paulus, P. B., Kohn, N. W., & Arditti, L. E. (2011). Effects of quantity and quality instructions on brainstorming. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 45(1), 38-46.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]