What is Brainstorming? 

Brainstorming is the name given to a situation when a group of people get together to generate new ideas around a specific area of interest.

Using rules which remove inhibitions, participants are able to think freely and move into new areas of thought to create numerous new ideas and solutions.

In traditional brainstorming, participants call out ideas as they occur to them and then build on the ideas raised by others. All the ideas are noted down and only when the brainstorming session is over are the ideas evaluated.

When to use brainstorming 

Brainstorming with a group of people is a powerful technique. Brainstorming creates new ideas, solves problems, motivates and develops teams. Brainstorming motivates because it can involve all members of a team/group and gets everyone working together.

Brainstorming can be used when: 

  • Looking for a range of ideas or options 
  • Looking for original or creative options 
  • Looking for team/group participation within a process

Brainstorming rules

During a brainstorming session, the following ‘rules’ help facilitate to ensure the process can be successful. 

  1. There is no such thing as a bad or dumb idea  
  2. Build on other people’s ideas – combining, expanding, modification is encouraged  
  3. One conversation at a time 
  4. Quantity counts – not quality – be creative 
  5. Capture all the ideas 
  6. No judgments or criticism 

Brainstorming preparation

  • Who will lead or facilitate the brainstorming session?
  • Who will participate in the brainstorming session?
  • Who can write quickly and accurately to record the brainstormed ideas without slowing down the team/group process?
  • Where will the brainstorming session be held?
  • How long will the actual brainstorm be? 15-60 minutes is normal 
  • What materials will we need for brainstorming? 
  • What is the desired outcome of the brainstorming session?
  • How will the ideas be ranked? 

Brainstorming Process

Materials required: Flipchart, pens, tape, blank wall space, post it notes.

  1. Print out the brainstorm rules and distribute to the group to ensure everyone has a clear understanding of the process to be followed.
  2. After bringing the group together – ensure you have clearly identified the facilitator and the recorder.
  3. Explain and review the topic or problem to be discussed. The problem or goal needs to be defined in a way that will make it stay imprinted on each participant’s mind. Often it is best phrased as a ‘why’, ‘how’, or ‘what’ question to ensure everyone understands the subject of the brainstorm.
  4. Allow a minute or two of silence for everyone to think about the question.
  5. Now the facilitator opens the floor for people to call out their ideas.
    The first stage of the brainstorming process can be a free‐thinking or random technique.
  6. Write down or draw ideas onto the board, use post-it notes or cards. Nothing gets an idea across faster than drawing, so don’t be nervous to be creative visually!
  7. One idea at a time. The team/group is far more likely to build on an idea and make a creative leap if everyone is paying full attention to whoever is sharing a new idea. 
  8. Finally evaluation of ideas: a key part of this strategy is to understand the way the ideas are going to be sorted and to do this fairly so participants don’t feel excluded from the group process. This is the moment of the session where you decide which ideas are worth pursuing and which are not by following 3 steps: categorise, reduce then analyse to find your solution for development and implementation.

Structure can be added to a brainstorming session by using a technique like ‘round robin’. This technique will allow all participants to have their ideas heard and captured.

Using Round Robin brainstorming techniques

Verbal round robin brainstorming 

  1. Bring the team/group together and identify the rules, facilitator and recorder as with traditional brainstorming
  2. Make sure everyone understands the subject of the brainstorm
  3. Allow a minute or two of silence for everyone to think about the question/problem 
  4. Next go around the room in order and allow each participant to state one idea
  5. Write down each idea for further discussion
  6. Once all the ideas are noted down and only when the brainstorming session is over are the ideas, categorised, reduced and then analysed to find your solution for development and implementation.

Written round robin brainstorming

  1. After bringing the team/group together, provide each participant with post-it notes or cards so they can record their ideas individually.
  2. Next the facilitator explains the topic or problem to be discussed, being specific about the objectives of the brainstorming session and answering any initial questions.  
  3. Next each team/group participant, in silence, thinks of one idea and writes it down on their post-it notes/cards.
  4. After everyone has written down an idea, each person now passes their idea to the person next to them.
    Everyone should now be holding a new post-it note or card with their neighbour's idea written on it.
  5. Each person now uses their neighbour's idea to inspire them to create another idea and writes this on a new post-it note or card.
  6. Next each person hands in their neighbour's post-it note or card to the recorder, and passes their newly written idea to the person next to them to repeat step 4.
  7. Continue this circular idea swap for as long as is necessary to gather a good amount of ideas. Once this process appears complete, gather up all the ideas on the post-it notes or cards for collation
  8. Finally categorise, reduce and analyse the ideas to find your solution for development and implementation.

The advantages of using a written round robin is that your team/group uses other people's ideas to generate even more ideas, without being influenced by assertive or vocal participants within the team.

This approach also ensures that everyone in your team/group gets an equal chance to present their ideas. If your team/group has shy or quiet participants, this method can help them feel comfortable and supported. 

Brainstorming Considerations 

  • Cover off brainstorming preparations
  • Consider the best brainstorming method for your team/group
  • Circulate the rules
  • Have a separate facilitator and recorder 

It is important the brainstorming session starts with the right tone. Poorly structured discussions held in an uncomfortable atmosphere can influence a meeting’s productivity. By comparison, a relaxing and pleasant environment can have a positive effect on the overall brainstorming session.

At the beginning of the brainstorming session, the problem or the goal needs to be defined in a way that will make it stay imprinted on each participant’s mind. 

The facilitator should act as a buffer between the group and the recorder, keeping the flow of ideas going and ensuring that no ideas get lost before being recorded.

The recorder should focus on capturing the ideas and should attempt to not rephrase ideas.

Teams/groups should be encouraged to think up wild ideas. Wild ideas can often give rise to creative leaps. In thinking about ideas that are wacky or out there, we tend to think about what we really want without the constraints of technology or materials.

Evaluation of ideas:

  • Choosing the way the ideas are going to be selected fairly so participants don’t feel excluded from the process. 
  • Decide the ideas worth pursuing by following the 3 steps: categorise, reduce and analyse
  • To assist with this process see our section on Affinity Tools