Developing ideas: Brainstorming in Brief 🧠

How do you use that creative muscle to come up with good ideas?


What is brainstorming?

Most people think of the word "brainstorming" as: sitting around the table for a while and shouting some ideas at each other. But brainstorming is much more than that. Brainstorming is a creativity technique with the goal of quickly generating many new ideas about a particular topic or issue. 

'The man himself': Alex Faikney Osborn

The origins behind brainstorming

In one of the most vaunted advertising agencies in the world called BBDO, director Alex Faikney Osborn ran into a problem. His staff often came up with sublime ideas but that often happened when his worked on their own. But when Osborn called his staff together for a meeting with a client all their creativity stalled. This was something he could not afford to do. After all, surprising ideas had to be produced every day and to achieve that, teamwork was needed.

Osborn sat down with the most creative scientists, artists and copywriters of his time. He spent a long time studying books, philosophers and consultation methods from other cultures and times. Until one day he stumbled upon the copywriter Alan Ward. Ward had no fixed way of thinking creatively but had invented a way of getting into the right mood to think more creatively. Ward did this by using a question or problem to write down as many ideas and sentences as fast as possible. He literally wrote down everything that came into his head on a large sheet of paper - no matter how crazy or boring the idea, nothing was wrong! After a while, the sheet of paper was full of ideas and Ward was able to connect and combine the best ideas and sentences.

This research by Osborn led to two crucial insights:

  1. To come up with a good idea, think of many. The more the better.
  2. By focusing on creating ideas and not judging them, you will create many more good ideas.
The two phases of brainstorming

The two phases of brainstorming

Osborn's insights have shown that it is a good idea to split the creative thinking process into two phases:

  • Phase 1: The idea generation phase
  • Phase 2: The idea evaluation phase.

In the idea generation phase, the goal is to generate as many ideas as possible based on a preconceived question or problem statement. The ideas may run from crazy to boring. Anything goes and absolutely no judging or criticizing is allowed! When you do this you frame the creativity of the group and create an atmosphere that ideas are not valued making people feel inhibited to speak up.

"Before coffee come up with ideas. After coffee evaluate and develop ideas"

In the idea evaluation phase, the group will select ideas. Pick out the best, most fun ideas with the most benefits. Reinforce these ideas and test them against each other. Then decide which ideas to drop and which ideas are worth taking to the next day or session.

Time for action

After a night's sleep, everyone has a little more clarity, and a small discussion allows for quick thinking about the priorities of the ideas to be developed. But how do we get from an idea to an innovation? After doing the brainstorming and choosing an idea, it is important to then create an action plan. How are you going to develop the idea? Who do you need to do this? In what time frame does it need to happen? What space and budget will you make available for this? In short, make a concrete plan that you and your team can work with. And then? Action!

Thom Peet

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