In a Nutshell                              

©Leslie Owen Wilson                       

Brainstorming is a way to stimulate divergent thinking. One of the best general explanations I have found for describing “brainstorming” comes from a book entitled The art of creating thinking by Wilfred A. Peterson.

. . . Brainstorming is an existing process by which individuals strive to stimulate and inspire each other to create ideas.  The purpose is to tap the subconscious mind of each member in a group and create a mutual sharing of mental wealth of those participating.  Through the mechanism of association, one idea will suggest another and another. . . creating a chain

. . . It can be used by everyone. . . Brainstorming is thinking-together, harnessing imaginative power.  It is mental teamwork, going into a creative-huddle.  It can be used by family members to create harmony in the home or by statesman to create a peaceful world.  10-11
light bulbs

BTW – Alex F. Osborn has been designated the “Father of Brainstorming;”


Intentions for brainstorming

In creative problem solving one weaves in and out of two types of thinking — both divergent (expanding) and convergent (narrowing,) In ideating one is using divergent thinking as the whole intention of the exercise is to generate a large number of very diverse ideas and responses. This technique is meant to get one to think of possibilities by diverging. As such it should be one of the primary steps used in creative problem solving. While the volume of different ideas is the primary goal of this from of generating lots of ideas, this technique has other benefits:

1. Students learn to express their ideas freely and without the fear of criticism.

2. Students learn to piggyback ideas – to build on the ideas of others.

As a visual metaphor I like to think of bubbles hitting the air and colliding. Instead of breaking when they bump into one another, they merge and expand, or merge and then divide into more bubbles.


Rules for brainstorming

There are actual rules for brainstorming and these should be followed for each session. Brainstorming works better if participants know the rules beforehand and have an opportunity to get to know one another as well. It flourishes in an atmosphere where there are levels of mutual trust and acceptance, without fear of ridicule or criticism.

1. All ideas are judgment free and criticism are deferred

2. Participants should feel unrestricted and should feel that they are free to say anything and everything. The farther out the idea, the better.

3. Ideas should be built on the ideas of others. This is the concept of piggybacking.

4. The more ideas, the better. This is an exercise where the quantity of ideas is stressed over the quality of the ideas.


Follow-up Activities

After the brainstorming session there are follow-up activities that are important.

1. All ideas should be left in their original form.

2. Standards should be developed for evaluating and revising the collected ideas. During this process the ultimate goal(s) of the brainstorming activity should be taken into account.

3. After the ultimate goals have been established and judgment criteria discussed, see how many ideas fit the criteria.

4. Discuss methods or ways to develop each of the remaining ideas.

5. Discuss how each idea can best be presented and refined.


Sample Titles of Books on Brainstorming Techniques:

Gray, D. and Brown, Sunni (2010) Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers.

Michalko, M. (2006) Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (2nd Edition) 

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