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April 13, 2018

Brainstorming Techniques – The Complete Guide

While there are many different and innovative ideation techniques available, brainstorming is the most widely used and popular one. This could be attributed to the fact that it is the most user-friendly technique in ideation. Popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1953 book Applied Imagination, brainstorming is a group creativity technique using which conclusion for specific problems are found by collecting a list of ideas planned by the members spontaneously. Brainstorming provides a non-judgemental environment to foster ideas.
People are given the ability to think freely and suggest as many voluntary new ideas as possible. All the variety ideas are penned down first. These ideas are not disapproved, but after the brainstorming session, the ideas are assessed. These sessions can be unstructured as well as structured with a moderator or facilitators and guidelines for the smooth running of the processes. Alex Faickney Osborn started to develop methods for creative problem-solving in 1939 after he was frustrated by the inability of his employees to curate creative ideas individually for companies. So he started to organize group-thinking sessions and started to discover a change in the employee’s thinking abilities. This article will focus on the topics that are important to stress the importance of brainstorming.

Importance and advantages of Brainstorming

Of all the importance of brainstorming, the most important factor is that as an individual and as a team, brainstorming improves the critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  It enhances the thinking beyond the box.  It is effective for all kinds of audiences. There are situations when no ideation technique works and brainstorming becomes the hero. Since the costs for a brainstorming session is very low compared to the output, its importance with respect to the other ideation methods is bigger. By eliminating the boss or the decision makers, the team gets to be in a safe zone where they can think.

The biggest advantage of brainstorming is the number of ideas generated. It brings together people having different viewpoints on the same ideas. This has worked wonders for the whole team in general. Because it is an easy process, the ideas and suggestions are not criticized during the brainstorming session; interesting proposals can be refined gradually. Here the team members build their ideas and solutions based on the ideas of others and improve them. This synergy effect allows better ideas to be generated.

The Three Rules of Brainstorming

The three golden rules of brainstorming are meant to decrease the social obstructions that occur in groups and allow the growth of new ideas. What comes out of following the rules is a dynamic cooperation that increases the creativity of the team members. These rules act as a code of conduct which sets the benchmark for creativity. They are as follows.

It is the quantity that matters and not the quality

It is essential to come up with more creative ideas without minding the quality of the ideas. More the number of ideas more is the opportunity to compare with the previous sessions. This rule is a means of intensifying divergent production by promoting quick thinking. The greater the number of ideas generated, the greater is the possibility of producing an effective solution. So instead of focusing on just one good idea, it is important to focus on many relatively general ideas.

Criticism is not encouraged

There is nothing like a bad idea. Every idea should be appreciated equally. If there is no judgement, there will be the creation of a supportive atmosphere. There are many instances where even foolish ideas have led to the ignition of better ideas.  The rule of ‘No Criticism’ gets violated if the ideas are not written down. By criticising a person, the other team members are discouraging that person and obstructing him or her to perform their chores properly. Brainstorming is not a platform for any sorts of discussion or debate for one person to display superiority over another.

Unusual ideas are encouraged

Unusual or wild ideas can open up new ways of generating ideas and provide solutions in ways that have not been approached before. These kinds of ideas can be generated by observing from another perspective and setting up assumptions. They might sound stupid or useless in the beginning but they could be the breakthrough ideas. Instead of laughing at the person for coming up with such an absurd idea, the team members should focus on deciphering that particular idea to generate more ideas.

Types of Brainstorming techniques

There is a bevy of brainstorming techniques used by individuals as well as groups to find solutions and ideas for problems. A few of them have been outlined below.

6-3-5 Brainwriting

Also known as 635 Method or Method 635, 6-3-5 Brainwriting is the most popular group-structured brainstorming technique targeted at helping processes of innovation. This creative technique developed by Bernd Rohrbach has originally published it in a German sales magazine, the Absatzwirtschaft, in 1968. The numbers in the name show how the process is being done. 6 participants are supervised by a moderator and they are asked down to write 3 ideas based on a specific problem within a time period of 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes, the team swap the list they made with the next team sitting at their right and as soon as 6 rounds are over, there will be a total of 108 ideas generated in 30 minutes. What this particular technique proves is that within a short span of time, a wide variety of numerous ideas can be generated.

Mind Mapping

After brainwriting, the next best brainstorming technique is called mind mapping. It creates some small ideas from one big idea using diagrams and figures. In this technique, a piece of paper is taken and the topic, in the form of a word, is written in the middle of the page. As new ideas are thought of, they are written as branches spreading outwards. Similar ideas are linked to the same branch with the same color. These branches serve as the categories of ideas. Sometimes some words become more important and will replace the central term as the main term, and the branching will continue from around it. The main benefit of this technique is that ideas are compiled together so that the team members can make out the connections between each term.

Reverse Brainstorming

This method is used by people for whom it is difficult to create ideas directly or by people who want to optimize the ideas. So the easiest way is to brainstorm the reversed problem and get ideas out of it. Instead of solving the problem directly, the focus is on the ideas of what causes the problem and then reverse it to get the solutions for the problem. This technique is said to influence the human mind to create more breakthrough ideas. The only problem with this technique is that it lacks creativity and thus the results are not always promising. But, this technique is worth mentioning because of the way in which it is carried out.

Brainstorming strategies in Writing

While there are different strategies for writing, a few brainstorming strategies stand out as they are preferred by the most writers. A few of these strategies have been explained below.


Just like the six sides of a cube, we can approach any topic from six different directions in the technique of cubing brainstorming.  The six different directions are

  • Describe the topic and the ideas that can solve the problems.
  • Compare it with other similar topics and find the connections.
  • Associate it with the other topics to find more ideas.
  • Analyze the topics in an extensive manner.
  • Apply the ideas according to relevance in the topics.
  • Argue for and against the ideas generated for the particular topic.

Developed as a critical-thinking activity to help students publish their thoughts in opinion essays, cubing was adjusted for general nonfiction writing, though it was of restricted value for fiction.


The art of writing everything that comes to the mind without any restriction is freewriting. Any errors such as grammar, spellings as well as the quality of the writing are overlooked in freewriting. The advantage of this method is whatever that is there in mind is put down on paper without any internal critic working which means every single idea, good or bad, is written down. It’s better to set a specific set of timing before starting to free write. Its crucial to keep on writing even if it means nothing in the beginning. No matter the relevance, the word must follow the word. After completing the task, deep analysis can be conducted from which something or the other useful information can be extracted. This will help in writing relevant articles.


Also known as clustering and webbing, mapping is a graphic structure of listing that merely involves penning down ideas and solutions on a writing surface and then marking connections by linking similar ideas with circles of same colour or similar underlines and then specifying other relationships by connecting them with lines, thus creating a map or a web. In this method, every idea is interconnected with each other and therefore find relevance with each other.

What is Stepladder technique?

In order to manage how the team members of the brainstorming group enter the decision-making center, the technique of stepladder is used extensively. It was developed by Steven Rogelberg, Janet Barnes-Farrell and Charles Lowe in 1992. This method encourages everyone to give their part before being influenced by any outsiders. What happens from this is an explosion of ideas.

The specialty of this technique is that everyone gets a chance to speak out their ideas and no ideas are undermined by anyone else. All of this helps the group to make better decisions. This step-by-step method assigns tasks to group members and specifies a time to solve the problems. What makes this method different is that this technique allows the newest member of the group to present their ideas and solution first.
The Stepladder technique has five major steps. They are as follows:

Step 1: Preparing and explaining the problem

Before beginning, the problem is kept in front of the team members so that they can familiarise themselves with it. Enough time is given to everyone to think about the problem and create their own opinions on how to solve the problem. Giving everyone space is important as individual thinking is more important here. This time is taken by the team members to ponder over the problem without discussing it with anyone else.

Step 2: Form a group

After the above period has passed, two members of the team are asked to come forward to discuss the problem amongst themselves. They can use the ideas they thought about in step 1 and start their discussion. It’s not necessary for them to arrive at a conclusion or make any decisions.

Step 3: Continue the process by adding a new member

After the two people have finished their discussion, a third person is asked to join them. This person first presents the ideas before discussing the ideas accumulated in step 2. After this, all the three members discuss together. This is crucial because the discussion of the core team won’t mirror the ideas of the third person.

Step 4: Repeat the process

Repeat the step 3 by adding a fourth member, fifth member and so on till everyone has shared their ideas and viewpoints. Each new person added should be given time to present without hearing what the others have discussed. Once the new member is provided a chance to show, the rest of the members can update them on what the team had been talking.

Step 5: Taking final decision

A final decision is taken only after all the members have presented their ideas. Even if there is a chance of reaching an ultimatum after the first few members spoke, the process has to be completed correctly. Taking into consideration all the ideas discusses, a suitable solution has to be taken that is in the best interest of the organization.

This technique might not be necessary for every brainstorming sessions, but it is the perfect tool for some cases. If the team is large and multi-ideological, this method is the best. When iterated correctly, this technique is not at all time consuming and can lead to a logical choice that is supported by the majority of the team.

Brainstorming as a method of teaching

Brainstorming is considered as a beautiful teaching procedure to create ideas on a particular topic. It helps to promote thinking skills in students. When they are asked to think about matters related to a problem, the students can stretch their thinking skills to a greater extent. Moreover, with this technique of brainstorming, the student gets the chance to speak out what comes to their mind as they relate to the topic. Since there is no right answer and all answer are right, brainstorming can be used to teach kids with special needs as well.

All kids are intelligent, and brainstorming is used to tap into the prior knowledge they have and give them a chance to express their ideas. They are taught a variety of lessons using brainstorming sessions. By trying something new without fear, the fear of failures gets eliminated. Brainstorming introduces the practice of idea collection before beginning mundane tasks such as writing or solving problems.

By tapping into individuality and creativity, the fear of risk-taking is also eliminated. Just like every other brainstorming session, there are no wrong answers, and each answer is the pathway to a different idea. All the designs are recorded and are not evaluated. Before starting a new concept or topic, the brainstorming session will yield teachers with quite a great deal of information regarding what the student may or may not know.

With all of the above reasons, it can be well said that brainstorming is the most popular ideation method though it has a variety of methods within. It is also seen as a rejuvenation method as it helps people clear their minds. It facilitates as a door of communication between the team members as well. In short, brainstorming has helped a lot of enterprises to achieve their targets.


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