Creativity techniques: Brainstorming


Brainstorming and its basic types

Classical brainstorming

Brainstorming is one of the most widely used and an extremely effective methods for divergent idea generation. This technique was developed by New York advertising executive Alex Osborn around the years 1939 -1941.  In 1953 the procedures and rules had been defined and appeared in his book Applied Imagination.

Classical brainstorming is a predominantly verbal method of problem solving and an ideation technique of divergent idea generation,  conducted in small, specifically organized groups of  different  from each other and equal participants, (3-12 persons), and involves a well-trained leader – facilitator, a secretary, a well-defined problem, a  two separated stages session (idea generation, idea evolution), which normally lasts for 1-1,5 hour.

Methodological and theoretical foundations

Methodological and theoretical foundations for brainstorming are the following universal statements:
1. Understanding of human creativity as the process of self-organization, as spontaneous emergence of order out of seeming disorder. Willing  acception of  uncertainty is the  path to creative freedom and new possibilities, and directed ordering of  disorder will spontaneously emerge solutions of the problem. In this sense the essential metaphor of brainstorming is generation and  mastery of creative chaos.
2. There is an analogy between creativity and the evolutionary process in nature. According to these approaches, creativity is a Darwinian process, a “blind-variation-selective-retention process” (BVSR) (Campbell 1960). Namely richness and diversity of life forms as the base of changes, development and creative emergence  of new forms.

Brainstorming is  based on two fundamental principles:

1. Quantity breeds quality.
2. Deferred judgment about the ideas value.

It  is governed by four basic rules:

1. Criticism of an idea is ruled out.
2. Freewheeling and unusual ideas are welcomed.
3. Quantity of ideas is wanted.
4. Combining and improving ideas.

Main brainstorm functions

1. Brainstorming is a powerful tool in Creative Problem Solving. This technique  helps to create new productive ideas and solves a complex problems.
2.  Brainstorming motivates and develops teams, emphasize teamwork and discussion. Group work provide  a wide range of alternatives and a variety of viewpoints.
The power of this technique is in the group synergy, in generation of a creative energy, in establish a new creative space, where everyone encourage and stimulate others  and new ideas are grow from another ideas.
The essence of brainstorming method is a divergent thinking, namely generating a large quantity of different ideas and hence a generation of diversity.
In addition plenty of ideas is the raw materials and breeding ground on which the effective practical solutions grow. Moreover namely generating  wrong,  stupid and  silly  ideas could spark off  the most  useful and pragmatical  ideas.
The most criterian of brainstormig is the sheer number of genereted ideas. That’s why the main purpose of this method is overcoming and inherent inner and social barriers,  breaking down a mental blocks, habitus, stereotypes and inertia thinking.
Consequently  the main goal of leader is making of a creative friendly atmosphere of comfort and confidence, a special creative space, where the participants freely, spontaneously and gladly  put forward a new ideas.

Procedure steps

1. The facilitator arranges the meeting for a group of the right size and makeup (ideally 4-8 people).
2. The facilitator conduct  warm-up session, generating a creative atmosphere and criticism-free environment.
3. The facilitator clearly define the problem and the objectives to achieve
writing it on a flipboard, whiteboard or other system where everyone can see it.
He review the ground rules instructs the participants to generate ideas ( anyone can say an idea at any time or say in turn, allowing people to pass if they have no new ideas).
4. All participants present their ideas, and the facilitator or idea collector records them. All ideas will be accepted and registered.
5. The facilitator encourages creativity and an enthusiastic behaviour in the group.
6. To ensure clarity, participants may elaborate on their ideas.
7. The facilitator organizes the ideas based on the topic goal and encourages participants to work on other people’s ideas, in order to improve them. Ideas that are identical can be combined, all others should be categorized and kept. 8.       The group itself, or special group of critics, evaluate the ideas and select one as the solution to the problem proposed to the group.
9. The facilitator clarifies the solution and concludes the session.

Brainstorming advantages 

• The rules of brainstorming is easy to understand, easy to master and use.
• It is inexpensive, simple technique,  that requires few material resources.
• Many ideas can be generated in a short time.
• Encourages creative thinking and thinking “out of the box”
• One idea can spark off other ideas.
• Is a democratic, fun and exiting  way of generating ideas
• Provides an opportunity for widespread participation and involvement
• Everyone can be involved equally, every idea is a worthy one
• Spirit of cooperation is created.
• Develops a creative abilities and creative thinking of group members.
• Universality of the method and possibility to combine it with other technique.

Brainstorming disadvantages 

• Requires an experienced and sensitive facilitator
• Can be chaotic, unfocused.and intimidating.
• Can take too much time if the group is not properly controlled
• If not managed well, criticism and negative evaluation may occur.
• More discrete participants might find it difficult to express their crazy ideas.
• Lack  of reliable criteria that  determine the quality of solutions.

Different methods and major brainstorming techniques

There are many variations of classical brainstorming, which  have been built upon basic principles. These include additional techniques, procedures, games, tools, equipment and technology used to organize and  stimulate the participants. The leader should compare different brainstorming techniques, select the best brainstorming method and apply it to the specific team situation.

There are several factors to consider:

1. The basic characteristics of the problem: complexity, level of uncertainty and novelty, inexpressiveness, heterogeneity, dynamics.
2. The peculiar properties of the group: size, varied a group, level of development and qualification, status and age of group members.
3. The brainstorming session situation: brainstorming space, the availability of necessary equipment, special blanks, cards, pens, white-board a flip chart or software tool.

I. Structure and procedures difference

1. Reverse (negative) brainstorming.
2. Combined brainstorming.
    2.1. Double brainstorming.
    2.2. Reverse and classical (direct) brainstorming.
    2.3. Reverse -Classical (direct) – Reverse brainstorming.
    2.4.  Shuttle Brainstorming.
3. Question  brainstorming.
4. Stop-and-go brainstorming.
5. Gordon-little variation.
6. Rawlinson brainstorming.
7. Kaleidoscope brainstorming technique (KBS).
8. Wildest idea technique.
9. Individual brainstorming.
10. Brainwriting.
11. Individual brainwriting.

II. Group brainstorming techniques

1. Group brainwriting technique.
2. Brainwriting pool (BP).
3. The Gallery method.
    3.1. Post it Note brainstorming.
    3.2. Display brainstorming.
    3.3.   Brainwalking.
4.  6-3-5 Brainwriting (6-3-5 Method, or Method 635).
5. Brain writing game.
6. Constrained brainwriting.
7. Round-Robin  and Roundtable brainstorming.
    7.1. Round-Robin  Technique (The verbal version)
    7.2. Roundtable Brainstorming (the written version)
    a) One paper version
    b) Stack of cards version
    c) Small groups version
    d)  Sequencing version.
8. Group passing technique.
    8.1.  One idea and one paper version.
8.2. The same piece of  paper and many ideas version.
8.3. Idea Book.
9. Nominal group technique.
10. The Buzz session.
    – Phillips 66 Buzz Session variation.
11. Rolestorming technique.
12. Rotating roles.
13. Blue slips technique.
14. The Pin card technique.
15. The K-J method.
16. Snowballing technique.

III. Brainstorming combined with other famous techniques

1. Team Idea mapping.
2. The classic cluster brainstorming method.

3. Card story boards.
4. Trigger method.
5. Imaginary brainstorming.

6. Air cliché.
7. Battelle-Buildmappen-Brainwriting.
8. Visual brainstorming. 
9. Rightbraining.
10. Braindrawing.

11. Brain sketch (A. Van Gandy, 1988)

Brainsketching is an idea generation technique, based on brainwriting, that uses sketching as the primary means of recording ideas.

Procedure steps

1. A group of 4-8 people sit around a table, or in a circle of chairs. The problem statement is agreed, and discussed until understood.
2. Each participant privately draws one or more sketches (each on separate sheets of paper) of how it might be solved, passing each sketch on to the person on their right when it is finished. The facilitator suggests that sketches should not take more than 5 minutes or so to draw.
3. Participants take the sketches passed on to them and either develop or annotate them, or use them to stimulate new sketches of their own, passing the amended original and/or any new sketches on to their neighbors when ready. 4. After the process has been running for a suitable period or energy is running lower, the sketches are collected in.
5. It will probably help to display all the sketches and to discuss them in turn for clarification and comment.
6. Then participants move on to any appropriate categorisation, evaluation and selection process.

Variation 2
Procedure steps

1.  Participants sketch their ideas individually on several large sheets of paper pasted on the wall.
2. Then  the participants explain their idea sketches, switch places and continue sketching. Usually, about five such rounds of idea sketching take place.
3. Finally all idea sketches are collected, integrated, disscussed and evaluated.

12. Electronic brainstorming, Online brainstorming or Brainlining

13. The Military brainstorming version

This method is the part of  “Appreciation Process”, which was developed by the both UK and Australian Army for operational planning and further improved by application of human factor. This technique is based on model on directed creativity and focuses on accurate appreciating  of all aspects of the problem, before making a decision. (G. Klein, M. Sebell and others)

Procedure steps

1. Define the problem. This is best done using the 5WH method, that is by considering the what, why, where, when, who and how of the problem.
2. Examine the facts and individual consideration. What are the factors that influence how you solve this problem. Determine exactly what each one really means to your problem. You can do this simply by asking the question “So what?” after each factor.
3. Present ideas.  Once you have a thorough understanding of all the facts, and what this really means – you can start brain storming options for solving your problem.
4. Critique the ideas.
5. Integrate and development of ideas. Select the best solution and create the plan to achieve it.
6. Converge on solution.

14. Directed brainstorming

In this method the solution space, which includes  the criteria and conditions for evaluating an excellent idea is known before the session is conducted. It is important to bear in mind that in some cases the established criteria can intentionally constrain the ideation process.

Procedure Steps

1. Еach participant is given one sheet of paper and told the brainstorming question or problem.
2. They are asked to produce one response and stop,  then all of the papers  are randomly swapped among the participants.
3. The other participant will evaluate the idea and try to improve the idea based on the initial criteria.
4. The swapping process is continued for at least for three or more consecutive rounds.
It has been found to almost triple efficiency of directed brainstorming.

15. Variable Brainstorming

Procedure Steps

1. Identify the variable in the end outcome you look to achieve.
2. List down all the possibilities for that variable. Define different variations of the Variable.
3. Think about the question with each different variable in the form: How can you get more…?
4. Cconsistently generate and brainstorm ideas as answers to questions.

16. Highlighting

This method is a straightforward and vigorous technique, which can be put into place with little training and capable of capturing attention and participation.
Starting from a large list of ideas, which received  from brainstorming. Ideas are screened, the best of which are short-listed triggering discussion.

Procedure Steps

1. Draw out ideas that seem intriguing or interesting, regardless of viability.
2. Sort into clusters of related ideas, each cluster being a ‘hotspot’.
3. Recognise the ‘hotspots’ that mean something to you, does it have any ‘associations’, perhaps it has unusual consequences or implications?
4. The final solution is the ‘hotspot’, or combination of several ‘hotspots’, that best suit your needs.
Сlusters are only created from items that are felt to be interesting or intriguing, so that the clusters identify ‘hotspots’ – groups of related ideas that have ‘connected’ with someone’s imagination. Other clustering techniques tend to emphasise logical categorisation rather than strength of ‘association’.

17. Value Brainstorming

Procedure Steps

1. Ask the group to brainstorm and  make a list of primary concerns regarding their problem statement.
2. Ask all participants to brainstorm  to make a list of some of the hidden values lie behind this primary concerns.
3. Participants should rank these values and clarify their meaning.
4. The group should suggest solutions based on these values and what can be done to action the ranked results.

18. Didactic Brainstorming

Procedure Steps

1. Begin with a question that is an abstract version of your problem statement. For example:   What is beauty?
2. Get participants to discuss for a few minutes, and come up with a variety of answers.
3. Then reveal your true problem statement:  How can we improve the appearance of our staff room?.
This approach might appeal to more philosophical learners.

19. Best idea brainstorming

After defining and clarifying the topic, each person writes down one idea on an index card.
Then partners share their ideas with one another and together write a “best” idea.
These partner ideas are then listed, discussed, culled, and prioritized by the full group.

20. Brainstorming Deluxe
Value-added brainstorming (Greg Bachman, 2000) puts ideas into five segments of a compounding process. It structures the flow of ideas so that each segment of ideas adds value to the next.

Procedure steps

1. Demand. List ideas about what’s causing the problem you are here to solve.
One feature of this step is that it can unearth causes that haven’t been recognized as driving the problem.
2.  Objectives. Listing goals – what do you want to achieve in solving the problem.
Set aside the managerial tendency to simplify by coping with only a single objective.  By understanding the many possible solutions, the richness of the value-added brainstorming process begins to unfold.
3. Resources. List places and other organizations that you can to go for help with the problem.
After completing step 3, give your group time to breathe and review:
Walk them through the list of ideas from step 1, and reiterate the ideas suggested as objectives.
The review process gives the group an opportunity to make a few more visual and cognitive connections between the cause of the problem and the resources needed to solve it.
4. Processes. List ways to turn the previous ideas into methods, plans, products, and services that will meet your objectives.
Processes are concepts that take resources ideas and shape them into practical ways they can be implemented.
Now, with their ability to focus on details and construct viable processes from the smallest ideas, this formerly silent bunch is adding value.
5. Communication. List possible ways to transfer your ideas to people who might value them.
If participant’s solution will add value to the organization, then they must communicate it. Communication transfers the value of the solutions (processes) to the rest of the organization and its stakeholders.


Markov, S.L. (2010) Mozkovyi schturm i jogo riznovydy jak efektyvni instrumenty vyrichennj upravlinskih problem [Brainstorming and its variants as effective tools for solving management problems]  In S.D. Maksimenko & L.M. Karamushka (Eds.), Actualni problemy psichologii. Vol 1, 27, (pp. 297-215). Kyiv: Publishing House “A.C.K”.

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