Creativity techniques: Brainstorming

Brainstorming and its basic types

Classical brainstorming

Brainstorming is one of the most widely used and 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 the spontaneous emergence of order out of seeming disorder. The willing exception of uncertainty is the path to creative freedom and new possibilities, and directed ordering of disorder will spontaneously emerge solutions to the problem. In this sense, the essential metaphor of brainstorming is the 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 value of the idea.

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 product ideas and solves complex problems.
2.  Brainstorming motivates and develops teams, and emphasizes teamwork and discussion. Group work provides a wide range of alternatives and a variety of viewpoints.
The power of this technique is in the group synergy, in the generation of creative energy, in establishing a new creative space, where everyone encourages and stimulates others and new ideas grow from other ideas.
The essence of the brainstorming method is divergent thinking, namely generating a large number of different ideas and hence a generation of diversity.
In addition, plenty of ideas are the raw materials and breeding ground on which effective practical solutions grow. Moreover namely generating wrong,  stupid and silly ideas could spark the most useful and pragmatic ideas.
The most criterion of brainstorming is the sheer number of generated ideas. That’s why the main purpose of this method is overcoming inherent inner and social barriers,  breaking down a mental block, habitus, stereotypes and inertia thinking.
Consequently, the main goal of a leader is making a creative friendly atmosphere of comfort and confidence, a special creative space, where the participants freely, spontaneously and gladly put forward 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 conducts a warm-up session, generating a creative atmosphere and a criticism-free environment.
3. The facilitator clearly defines the problem and the objectives to achieve
writing it on a Flipboard, whiteboard or another system where everyone can see it.
He reviews the ground rules and 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 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 a 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 are easy to understand, easy to master and use.
• It is an 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 other ideas.
• Is a democratic, fun and exciting  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 the creative abilities and creative thinking of group members.
• Universality of the method and possibility to combine it with other techniques.

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: are complexity, level of uncertainty and novelty, inexpressiveness, heterogeneity, and dynamics.
2. The peculiar properties of the group: size, varied 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, whiteboard 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. Brainwriting 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 storyboards.
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)

12. Electronic brainstorming, Online brainstorming or Brainlining

13.  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, and 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 three or more consecutive rounds.
It has been found to almost triple the efficiency of directed brainstorming.

14. 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. Consistently generate and brainstorm ideas as answers to questions.

15. The Military brainstorming version

16. Highlighting

This method is a straightforward and vigorous technique, which can be put into place with little training and is capable of capturing attention and participation.
Starting from a large list of ideas, which was 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 the 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 these 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


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”.