Brainstorming is probably one of the best-known creative techniques in generating new ideas. It can help finding solutions, drafting outlines, or inspiring ideas for creative projects. Learn about brainstorming and how you can benefit from it.

What is Brainstorming?

The term was coined in 1953 by advertising executive and avid creativity researcher Alex Osborn in his book Applied Imagination. Many researchers have refined the idea since.

Although Osborn devised brainstorming as a group activity, it has been found to be even more effective for individuals working in solitude.

The point is to generate as many ideas as possible, preferably new and imaginative ones, relating to one specific topic or goal that marks the starting point. When jolting people out of their normal way of thinking and offering a relaxed and open environment, brainstorming encourages practitioners to think in different directions than they normally would.

Participants are supposed to forget about social inhibitions and the inner critic and just go for it: Generate as many creative ideas as possible, regardless of how absurd or wild they might seem.

How Does Brainstorming Work?

In the first stage, start with one topic or one specific task. Write it down—prominently. Now switch off your inner critic, forget that anyone in the group might not like your solution, and write down/pipe in what comes to your mind. Often, one idea might lead to another. Don’t be afraid to build on other people’s ideas. Sometimes it requires refining existing ideas to have a breakthrough.

Allow yourself to get carried away in creating ideas. Enjoy it! The point is to get into a flow state. Whatever you do, never criticize or praise your own ideas or those of others in this first stage. This would disrupt your flow and jam your creative pathways.

As I said, the point is to generate as many ideas as possible. The less beaten the path, the more outré, the better. Make sure to keep out distractions and focus on your task. When you’re brainstorming, you’re brainstorming, and nothing else. Make sure that you write every idea down.

In the second stage, the ideas collected in this way are then evaluated. Favorites are chosen. Productability is surveyed. Maybe new ideas will even spring from this. Let them come. But the main point of this phase is to see which ideas are useful. But don’t bash unusual ideas right away. Give them a break if you like them and come up with ideas how this might be put into practice after all.

The third stage is then used to choose one idea (or a limited number of ideas) and work that out into a final creative product. While working on this project, more brainstorming can help when you get stuck. Just use the new problem as a starting point for another brainstorming session.

Tip: Although one idea (or a select few 😉 ) is chosen in the end, don’t throw the rest away. File them. Maybe some will be of use later.

How Can Brainstorming Help Me Be Creative?

Brainstorming is a good way to generate many ideas in a short period of time. It is just one creative technique among many, but it is a rather useful one.

Some criticize that the focus is more on quantity than on quality and that having a hundred bad ideas is not as good as having one brilliant one. True. But since we sometimes can’t wait for the most brilliant idea to marterialize out of the blue, brainstorming can help getting you started and coaxing ideas out.

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” (Jack London)

If you do brainstorming right, i.e. if you are able to switch off your inner critic, if you have fun and are not distracted, chances are there will be one or two useful ideas that can be extracted. That is the whole point of doing it. Even better, those other ideas might not be the ideal solution for this particular challenge, but if you keep them, you have a rich collection of ideas to refer back to later when they might fit.

As brainstorming sessions always focus on one specific topic/task, it is ideal for finding solutions for problems or getting a good overview over the material you need to work on this topic.

[Note: All right, I give up. This article is definitely getting too long for one post. 😉 I really didn’t think that there was so much I had to say about group brainstorming. To be continued in Part 2, then 😉 …]