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Wikipedia has an excellent entry on the background of the Brainstorming concept. From that article, Brainstorming is a group or individual creativity technique by which efforts are made to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its member(s). The term was popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1963 book Applied Imagination. Osborn claimed that brainstorming was more effective than individuals working alone in generating ideas, although more recent research has questioned this conclusion.

Osborn claimed that two principles contribute to “ideative efficacy,” these being “1. Defer judgment,” and “2. Reach for quantity.”[1] Following these principles were his four general rules of brainstorming, established with intention to reduce social inhibitions among group members, stimulate idea generation, and increase overall creativity of the group.

  • Focus on quantity: This rule is a means of enhancing divergent production, aiming to facilitate problem solving through the maxim quantity breeds quality. The assumption is that the greater the number of ideas generated, the greater the chance of producing a radical and effective solution.
  • Withhold criticism: In brainstorming, criticism of ideas generated should be put ‘on hold’. Instead, participants should focus on extending or adding to ideas, reserving criticism for a later ‘critical stage’ of the process. By suspending judgment, participants will feel free to generate unusual ideas.
  • Welcome unusual ideas: To get a good and long list of ideas, unusual ideas are welcomed. They can be generated by looking from new perspectives and suspending assumptions. These new ways of thinking may provide better solutions.
  • Combine and improve ideas: Good ideas may be combined to form a single better good idea, as suggested by the slogan “1+1=3”. It is believed to stimulate the building of ideas by a process of association.[1]



  • Think carefully about who your participants are. If you have very junior people with senior level people, you run a significant risk of some junior participants being unwilling to fully suggest ideas due to a fear of how they may be perceived. It’s also frequently a good idea to have participants from different backgrounds or roles, as you are more likely to get a wide range of ideas that different participants can build on.
  • An Affinity Diagram is a common method of capturing and organizing information during a Brainstorming session.





  1. Wikipedia entry: Brainstorming
  2. BABOK Guide, section 9.3


© 2013 by David Olson

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