Alex Osborn – Father of Brainstorming and method of Creative Problem Solving


Alex Osborn

Alex Faickney Osborn
(May 24, 1888, Bronx, New York City, USA – May 5, 1966, Buffalo, New York, USA) (Aged 77)
Nationality: American, United States
Category: Scientists, Leaders
Occupation: Psychologist, Сreativity Theorist, Advertising Executive, Author
Specification: Creative thinking, Creativity techniques, Psychology of Creativity, Creative problem-solving, Advertising
Unique distinction: He is known as the author of the creativity technique named brainstorming, co-author of the CPS method (Creative Problem Solving) and as one of the founders of the famous advertising agency BBDO. He is one of the founding fathers of creativity research and applied creativity. He is regarded as a famous business guru and one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century.
Gender: Male
Spouse: Helen Coatsworth Osborn.
Children: Katharine, Joan, Marion, Russell, and Elinor.
1. Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it in the bud.
2. Creativity is the production of meaning by synthesis.
3. …all of us are endowed with a divine spark, and that spark is our creative imagination. By implementing it with will-power we can acquire a habit of creative effort. And to my mind, creative effort is the key to a good life.
4. Creativity is more than mere imagination. It is imagination inseparably coupled with both intent and effort.
5. Necessity may be mother of invention, but fun is the father.
6. Whatever creative success I gained was due to my belief that creative power can be stepped up by effort, and that there are ways in which we can guide our creative thinking.
7. Each of us has an Aladdin’s Lamp which psychologists call creative imagination.
6. In such brainstorming sessions, when criticism is forbidden, new ideas pour out. They are evaluated later.
7. It is easier to tone down a wild idea than to think up a new one.
8. I expect to be happier than I otherwise would be. Because nothing could give me more satisfaction than to teach people how to make use of their
most priceless possession – their creative imagination”.

Achievements and contributions:

Social and professional position: Alex F. Osborn was an American advertising pioneer and executive, author, psychologist and consultant, lecturer, teacher and painter.
The main contribution (Best Known for): Alex F. Osborn is best known for his contribution to the development of the field of creative thinking and creative problem-solving. Alex Osborn has been labelled as the “father of brainstorming”. He founded and managed an advertising agency (BBDO) which became one of the leading advertising agencies in the world.
He also co-authored the CPS (Creative Problem Solving Process), a six-step creative problem-solving methodology developed with Dr. Sidney Parnes
He has contributed to the popularization of creative thinking techniques and their application in various fields, including business, education and scientific research.
His contributions to the field of creativity continue to influence scholars and practitioners today, and his ideas about the power of brainstorming and other creative techniques have become widely recognized as important tools for problem-solving and innovation.

Major Contribution to the Theory of Creativity, Applied Creativity and Advertising:

1. Creating and Advancing the Brainstorming Technique
Osborn’s major accomplishments include the development of the creativity technique named brainstorming. In 1942, Osborn introduced this concept of “thinking up” in his work How to Think Up which was a precursor to the brainstorming process that he later created. He first mentioned the term brainstorming in this book. Osborn outlined his method in the subsequent book Your Creative Power (1948). In this book, he first defined “Brainstorming” as using the brain to storm a creative problem in a commando fashion.
This technique emphasized the importance of suspending judgment, encouraging unconventional thinking, and building upon the ideas of others.
The success of his creative-process methodologies led to the publication of several creative thinking and problem-solving books, most notably “Applied Imagination.” Released in 1953, this book introduced the Creative Problem-Solving process to the world. In literature related to the creative process, Applied Imagination remains one of the most frequently cited books on this topic.
In this book, he described the process of brainstorming as a group creativity technique. He suggested that a group of people could generate more ideas than an individual working alone. The key to brainstorming was to generate as many ideas as possible without criticism or evaluation. Osborn adhered to the fact that “the more ideas you think up, the more likely you are to arrive at the potentially best leads to solution” (Osborn, 1953).
This technique is based on the following two ideas:
1. Separation of the imaginative mind and the judicial mind.
The first is able to generate, visualize and foresee ideas and the second takes care of analyzing and selecting ideas.
2. Principle of suspending judgment. 
This principle focuses on the belief that deferment of judgment during ideation keeps the critical faculty from jamming the creative faculty and is key to imaginative success. (1962)
Osborn (1955) introduced the concept that provides two separate sessions where the first session allows for ideas to flourish and the second session where decisions are made on the ideas produced.
Osborn proposed let’s try to act as if we were two people – at one time, a thinker upper, a producer of ideas; at another, a weigher of ideas”
Besides, Osborn elaborated on his deferred judgment principle to suggest the notion that quantity will breed quality.
He proposed two fundamental principles that contribute to “ideative efficacy”:
1. Defer judgment about the ideas.
2. Reach for quantity, which breeds quality

Later, Osborn revised the brainstorming process and introduced four basic rules:
1. Quantity of ideas is wanted. Generate as many ideas as possible
2. Withhold criticism. No one was to criticize an idea.
3. Welcome wild ideas. Stretch to create freewheeling and unusual ideas.
4. Combine and improve ideas. Participants were permitted to combine and improve ideas and use one idea as a springboard for another.

Group creativity technique.
Brainstorming, according to Osborn, was meant to be conducted in a group setting of approximately 5-12 participants, including both experts and novices. Osborn proposed that at least 5 members have experience and training in Brainstorming.
It is important to emphasize, however, that Osborne has always insisted that Brainstorming was not to replace individual ideation and that group brainstorming is recommended solely as a supplement to individual ideation.
Since its initial publication in 1953, Applied Imagination has become one of the most widely known textbooks on the subject of creativity.

2. Creative problem-solving
Alex Osborn proposed and developed a creative approach to the process of creative problem-solving, which could produce more innovative and effective solutions. In this case, Osborn was influenced by the ideas of Graham Wallace, on the fundamental elements of a creative thinking process, incubation, intimation, illumination, and verification. Contrary to Brainstorming, CPS was a multi-stage creative process model intended to resolve practical problems.
As early as 1939, Osborn, working as head of the advertising department, began to develop creative problem-solving techniques. There were several versions and models of the CPS, each of which included incremental improvements.
In his work Applied Imagination (1953), Osborn developed CPS as a seven-stage process: orientation, preparation, analysis, hypothesis, incubation, synthesis, and verification.
The revised description provided in Alex Osborn’s Applied Imagination (1963) outlined the three major stages of CPS: fact-finding, idea-finding and solution-finding.
I. Fact-finding includes:
1. Problem-definition.
2. Preparation.
II. Idea-finding calls for:
3. Idea-production,
4. Idea-development,
III. Solution-finding calls for:
5. Evaluation,
6. Adoption.
This process was later expanded into the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem-Solving Process. (CPSP, commonly referred to as CPS). Dr. Sidney J. Parnes (1922-2013) was a professor at Buffalo State College. Their Creative Problem Solving Process (CPSP) has been taught at the International Centre for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo College in Buffalo, New York since the 1950s.
Parnes further modified Osborn’s CPS model. In Parnes’ Instructor’s Manual for Institutes and Programs (1966) outlined the Osborn-Parnes five-stage CPS process.
Therefore CPS evolved from Osborn’s seven-stage and three-step models to the Osborn-Parnes five-step model (Parnes, 1967), comprising fact-finding, problem-finding, idea-finding, solution-finding and acceptance-finding. Later, the sixth stage of mess-finding was added.
There are 6 steps to the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem-Solving Process.
1. Mess-finding / Objective finding. In this phase, you determine what the goal of your problem-solving process will be.
2. Fact-Finding ensures you gather enough data to fully understand the problem.
3. Problem Finding phase allows you to dig deeper into the problem and find the root or real problem.
4. Idea-Finding phase allows your team to generate many options for addressing the problem.
5. Solution Finding phase allows you to choose the best options from the ideas generated in the Idea Finding phase.
6. Acceptance -Finding phase, develop a plan of action to implement the solution you’ve settled on as the best choice.
They further divide their six steps into three phases.
1. Exploring the Challenge, which combines The first three steps
2. Idea Finding occupies the Generating Ideas.
3. Preparing for Action includes the last two steps.
Creative Problem Solving (CPS) is a structured way to generate creative and innovative ways to address problems, which is based on two assumptions:
• Everyone is creative.
• Creative skills can be learned and enhanced.
More recent modifications of CPS group the activities into four categories: Clarify, Ideate, Develop, and Implement, where divergent and convergent thinking are balanced.

3. Creative thinking and applied creativity
Alex Osborn was a pioneer in the field of creative thinking and one of the founding fathers of creativity research and applied creativity.
Everyone is creative and creativity could be nurtured directed, facilitated and enhanced.
Osborn believed that everyone had the potential to be creative and that creativity was a valuable tool for problem-solving and innovation.
He thought that it was up to individuals and organizations to cultivate this potential through training and education.
Osborne claimed that creativity could be awakened and enhanced through organizational activities and guided conscious effort. He stated: “Creativity is now something we can turn on and off like a faucet. It is an experience and expression in our lives that must be nurtured. This nurturing process means that creativity is at once a skill, an art, and a life-style”.
Applied creativity. Osborn was also a strong advocate for the use of creativity in business. As a business and advertising leader, Osborn recognized the importance of creativity, imagination and creative problem solving. He was acutely aware of the contribution creativity made to organizational success.
He found that traditional problem-solving methods often stifled creativity and prevented new ideas from emerging. In this regard, he began to develop and test new methodologies and techniques that would enhance the creativity of individuals and teams and their ability to meet new challenges.
Osborn’s long-term goal was to promote creativity and innovation in all aspects of life. Thus, he stated, that creativity, empathy and imagination can improve personal relations.
Creative leadership. He believed that creativity drives leadership is why CPS has become a process that can promote real change in any organization through a group of empowered individuals. Osborn mentioned that “not only in business but in every line, the quality of leadership depends on creative power”.
Positive attitude facilitates creativity. One of Osborne’s pioneering ideas in the field of creativity and cognitive science was to reveal the influence of mood and state on the success and efficiency of creativity.
Besides, some of Osborn’s principles, ideas and rules of Brainstorming and Creative Problem Solving have been adopted into the most popular modern creativity technique – Design Thinking.

4. Fruitful and prolific authorship.
Apart from his work in advertising, Alex F. Osborn was a prolific author and published over 20 books on creativity, problem solving, advertising, communication and innovation
In 1942, “How To Think Up” was published, in which Osborn presented the idea of Brainstorming. His book “Your Creative Power” was published in 1948 and became a bestseller. In 1952, Osborn published “Wake Up Your Mind: 101 Ways to Develop Creativeness”, in 1953 his famous and influential book “Applied Imagination” and subsequently published the books under the title “Creative Problem-Solving: The Basic Course” in 1963 and “How to Become More Creative” in 1964.
These books provided insights into the theory and practice of creativity, offering practical techniques and exercises for enhancing creative thinking.
These works include advice for individuals and organizations seeking to improve their creative problem-solving skills.

5. Creativity in Education
Although he was a businessman, Osborn’s dream was to impact education in such a way as to develop the creative imagination of students.
In 1954, Dr. Osborn founded the Creative Education Foundation of Buffalo, to promote the use of creative thinking in education and business. CEF’s mission has evolved into the following: “to expand the use of creativity and innovation worldwide”. This foundation was sustained by the royalties earned from his books and served as its president.
The CEF developed programs and workshops to help individuals and organizations foster their creative potential and solve problems in innovative ways.
In 1954 he also launched the Creative Education Foundation’s Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI). Sid Parnes joined him the next year and became a guiding force for both CEF and CPSI.
CEF and CPSI foundation later led to the establishment of the Creative Studies Department at Buffalo State College in 1967 (now SUNY Buffalo State College), Buffalo, NY, also known as the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC), which Osborn co-founded with Dr. Sidney J. Parnes.
Working with Parnes, the two developed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem-Solving Model and later, together with Dr. Ruth Noller, a methodology for teaching it to students. Together with Sidney J. Parnes and Ruth Noller, they established the World’s First-Degree Program in Creativity at Buffalo State. The undergraduate minor program was launched in 1974 and the Master of Science degree was approved in 1975.
Prolific speaker and lecturer. Osborn was also a prolific speaker and lecturer, sought after for his expertise in applied creativity and innovation.
He was also a professor at multiple universities, including Syracuse University and the University of Buffalo, where he taught courses on creative thinking.
Osborn did quite a bit of public speaking throughout the United States. He also worked with educators and business leaders to promote creativity and innovation in education and business.

6. Contributions to Advertising and Marketing
Contributions to Advertising and Marketing: Osborne also made significant contributions to the psychology of advertising and marketing. His research and practice contributed to the development of an understanding of consumer behaviour and effective strategies for promoting products and services. He actively promoted the importance of considering psychological factors when designing marketing campaigns.
Alex Osborne is considered the pioneer of radio advertising. In addition to his work in the field of creativity, Osborn was also a successful advertising executive.
In 1921, before he published his theories and applications of creativity, Osborn published the book “A Short Course in Advertising”.
Osborn began his advertising career in 1915, and in August of 1919, He became a partner and the agency (BD&O, Inc. which in 1928 was renamed BBD&O). From 1939-1960 he served as chairman and vice chairman of BBD&O, which became one of the largest and most successful advertising agencies in the world.
He was the advertising director and the leading “Idea Man” at BBDO for 32 years and helped develop several notable advertising campaigns for clients such as General Electric, Pepsi, Merrill Lynch, Armstrong Cork, Chrysler, General Baking, Royal Crown Cola, American Tobacco, BF Goodrich, Du Pont, Wildroot Hair Tonic.
BBDO is still serving clients worldwide today with more than 15,000 employees at 289 offices in 81 countries and is the largest of three global networks of agencies. Today, BBDO Worldwide is a full-service, global network with over 200 locations around the world.
It is his work in advertising allowed him to explore creative thinking techniques. Over the course of his advertising career, Osborn received several patents for advertising displays and various devices.
Together with famous advertising leader William Bernbach they co-founded the International Academy of Advertising in 1960. W.Bernbach described him as “a great advertising man and a great human being.”
Osborn also served as the president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

Honours and Awards: Throughout his career, Osborn received numerous awards and honors.
In recognition of his contributions to advertising and creativity, Osborn was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1974.
He received several awards and honours including:
The National Red Feather Award (1951),
The Advertising Federation of America-Printers’ Ink Silver Medal for lifetime achievement in the advertising business (1951 & 1961),
He also received two honorary doctorate degrees from Webber College and Hamilton College (both 1959), and the University of New York at Buffalo Chancellor’s Medal (1960).
He served as director of the Marine Trust Company and Wildroot Co. Inc., was a trustee of the Western Savings Bank, trustee emeritus of Hamilton College, vice-president of the Community Chests and Councils of Americas and vice-president of the United Defense Fund, and also vice-chairman and council member of the University of Buffalo (1951-1959).

Some of the notable publications by Alex F. Osborn include:
1. Osborn, A. F. (1921) A Short Course in Advertising, London, New York: Sir I. Pitman & Son,
2. Osborn, A. F. (1942) How to “Think Up”. New York, London: McGraw-Hill Book
3. Osborn, A. F. (1948) Your Creative Power, Scribner,
4. Osborn, A. F. (1952a). Wake up your mind: 101 ways to develop creativeness. New York: Scribners.
8. Osborn, A. F. (1953/1979). Applied imagination: Principles and procedures of creative problem-solving. New York: Scribners.
10. Osborn, A. F. (1955, June). A one-two plan for supervisory conferences. Supervisory Development Today, 1, 1-3.
11. Osborn, A. F. (1956a, January 31). Ways to be more creative. Paper presented at the meeting of the Education Committee, Sales Executives Club of New York, NY.
12. Osborn, A. F. (1956b, July 8). Was Einstein right? Paper presented at Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, NY.
13. Osborn, A. F. (1958, October 14). Remarks to the faculty of Macalester College. Paper presented at the meeting of the Macalester College Faculty, Saint Paul, MN.
14. Osborn, A. F. (1962). Developments in creative education. In S. J. Parnes & H. F. Harding (Eds.), A source book for creative thinking (pp. 19-29). New York: Scribners.
15. Osborn, A. F. (1963) Creative Problem-Solving: The Basic Course.
15. Osborn, A. F. (1964a). The creative education movement (as of 1964). Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation.
16. Osborn, A. F. (1964b). How to become more creative: 101 rewarding ways to develop potential talent. New York: Scribners.

Career and Personal Life

Family background: Alex F. Osborn was born on May 24, 1888, in Bronxville, New York.
Osborn was the Son of John and Kate Osborn. He had five other siblings and was the youngest in his family. Osborn spent his childhood in New York.
Growing up in this metropolis, Osborn was exposed to a vibrant cultural and intellectual environment, which influenced his later work in creativity.
Osborn was an avid reader and enjoyed writing and storytelling from a young age.
Education background: Osborn attended Morris High School in New York City.
He received his Bachelor of Science psychology degree from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, in 1910.
He then enrolled in the advertising program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where he received a master’s degree in 1915.

Career highlights:

After graduation from Hamilton College, he took a position as a newspaper reporter for the Buffalo Times, followed by a brief stint reporting with the Buffalo Express over the course of two years. From 1911-1912, he was assistant secretary of the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce.
From 1912-1915, he was sales manager for the Hard Manufacturing Co. of Buffalo, a manufacturer of beds.
He began his famous advertising career in 1915 and until 1919 served as business manager of the E.P. Remington Advertising Agency in Buffalo. During that time he edited Y magazine of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association).
The magazine executive introduced Osborn to a fellow advertiser and writer named, Bruce Fairchild Barton. The two men volunteered for the United War Work campaign, which combined efforts of several organizations, including the Y.W.C.A., to raise money for the war.. Osborn also served in the New York National Guard on Mexico-Texas border during World War I.

In 1919 Osborne met Roy Sarles Derstine, a former reporter for the New York Sun, while fundraising for the YMCA.
Osborn proposed to Bruce F. Barton and Roy S. Durstine to start their own advertising agency. On January 2, 1919, B. Barton and R.Durstine, a former writer and former reporter formed their own advertising agency called Barton & Durstine Co., Inc. (B&D Co., Inc.), located in NYC.
In August 1919, Osborn became a partner in the agency and it was renamed Barton, Durstine & Osborn, Inc.(BD&O, Inc.) Osborn began to work at the Western NY branch in Buffalo’s Ellicott Square Building. This was the start of one of the most successful ad agencies in the 20th century.
In 1928, Barton, Durstine and Osborn merged with the George Batten firm and would become known as Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn (BBD&O).
After years of success and having survived the Great Depression, BBDO underwent a crisis in 1938, losing many of its clients and key personnel.
Osborn commuted to New York City and eventually saved the company by securing the Goodrich tire account.
Osborne became executive vice president of BBD&O after Derstine resigned in 1939 and he subsequently became chairman and then vice chairman of the board and held that position from 1946 until his retirement.
Osborn was crucial in recruiting many top employees, including Ben Duffy, who eventually became the president of BBDO. Dr. Osborn retired from BBDO’s board of directors in 1960 after thirty-two years.
He served also as director of the Marine Trust Company and Wildroot Co. Inc., was a trustee of the Western Savings Bank, trustee emeritus of Hamilton College, vice-president of the Community Chests and Councils of Americas and vice-president of the United Defense Fund, and also vice-chairman and council member of the University of Buffalo (1951-1959).

Personal life:

On September 15, 1916 in Welland, Ontario, Canada, Alexander F Osborn married Helen Coatsworth, the daughter of Buffalo attorney, Edward E. Coatsworth of Western Savings Bank.
The couple had five children to include: Katharine, Joan, Marion, Russell and Elinor. (Katherine O. Chambers Joan O. Bergantz Marion C. Osborn. Russell B. Osborn, Elinor O. Gartner).
Despite his busy professional life, Osborn was a devoted family man and spent much of his free time with his wife and children.
Personality: Osborn was a charismatic leader and a persuasive speaker who empowered others to innovate and experiment. He was known for his creative thinking and his ability to generate new ideas. “Alex Osborn was a visionary. A man driven to make the world a better place by uplifting humanity’s creative power”( G. Puccio & M. Holinger).
Osborn was a philanthropist, was involved in several charitable organizations and was known for his generosity and his commitment to helping others. Osborn was highly regarded by his peers and mentees, for his creativity, leadership, and vision
Philosophy of life: His philosophy centered around the idea that creativity could be learned and developed through practice and the application of specific techniques.
Osborn believed that a habit of creative effort is the key to a good life. He stated that exactly creativity was crucial for success and could be nurtured with the right mindset and tools. He emphasized collaboration as the source of breakthrough solutions.
He believed that leaders should set the vision, create the conditions for success, and give their teams the space to innovate and experiment.
Hobbies, interests, and personal pursuits: Osborn enjoyed oil painting, playing golf, and gardening. He also had a keen interest in nature and would spend hours observing the plants and animals in his backyard.
Osborn was an avid traveller, enjoyed hiking and camping and often used these experiences to inspire his creative work. He was also a collector of rare books and art, and his extensive collection was housed in a library he built in his home.
Alex F. Osborn passed away on May 5, 1966, in Manhasset, New York, at the age of 77. He was cremated and his ashes are in a niche at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York.


His first article was a reaction to the impolite taxi driver’s behaviour that prompted him to write about the trend among Americans to misuse their freedom. Later the editor, after reading this article, asked Osborne to write a book on the imagination.
In 1952 he lost over twenty pounds while writing the manuscript for Wake Up Your Mind.
The first empirical test of Osborn’s brainstorming technique was performed at Yale University, in 1958
At the age of 53, Osborn took up oil painting, which was a pastime he enjoyed for the rest of his life. He was a talented painter and was known for his cityscapes, landscapes, marine scenes and portraits.