What is brainstorming, how is the procedure, which rules apply and what are advantages and disadvantages?

The joint development of ideas in a team

Brainstorming is a creative technique in which a group of people work together to solve a problem by collecting and developing ideas. “Using the brain to storm a problem” is how Alex Osborn, the inventor of brainstorming, described his creativity technique. In developing brainstorming in 1939, Osborn was guided by the Indian Prai-Barshana technique, which has been around for around 400 years. Later, Charles Hutchison Clark developed brainstorming as a method for finding ideas in a team. Today brainstorming is considered a classic of creativity techniques.

Brainstorming procedure

Brainstorming follows a clear process of preparation, execution and follow-up:

  • In the course of brainstorming preparation, the team is put together on the basis of the problem, e.g. employees of a specialist area, experts of a subject area or external colleagues.
  • At the beginning of the implementation, the brainstorming rules, the specific procedure and also the timebox should be given. In addition, it is advisable to name a minute-taker – in practice often identical to the moderator.
  • The moderator presents the problem. The problem should be visibly presented on a blackboard, a flipchart or a whiteboard at all times, so that the participants can more easily keep the required focus during the brainstorming session.
  • Now the participants can spontaneously give their ideas for solving the problem or finding a solution. Ideally, the participants inspire each other so that other ideas can be derived from individual ideas.
  • All ideas have to be documented immediately. It is important to make sure that the information is not “translated” or “shortened” by the minute-taker / moderator. They should be documented as originally formulated by the participants and not “alienated”.
  • After the joint brainstorming, the grouping and possibly the evaluation of the ideas follows.
  • At the end it is necessary to describe the further procedure: who does what until when, how do possible next steps look like, when do the participants possibly meet for a second round etc.?
  • In the course of the follow-up, the results are prepared and made available to the participants. It is also recommended to communicate new information, findings and developments on a regular basis.


Brainstorming - developing ideas and solutions together as a team

Brainstorming rules

For brainstorming to work, there are some simple sonic rules to follow:

  • The criticism of ideas and thoughts is forbidden to every participant (and thus also to the moderator or the minute-taker). General criticism of individual idea providers is also not permitted; the aim is an appreciative, open and fair communication to solve a problem or task.
  • Any idea – as unlikely as it may sound – is a good idea.
  • Ideas expressed may be further developed by all participants.
  • Clear timelines and goals of individual sessions must be communicated.
  • Every participant can, but does not have to, participate.

Advantages and disadvantages

The associative and non-evaluative collection of ideas is a great advantage of brainstorming. The rules are easy to understand and the joint promotion of divergent, diverse ideas is often a lot of fun. The observance of the rules sounds relatively simple in theory, however, in practice the implementation is not always easy. Participants often start by assessing opinions and thus consciously or unconsciously destroy the format and an exchange at eye level. Here the moderator is challenged to end such developments immediately and to point out the rules again. If this does not happen, extroverted employees will usually prevail and many ideas of more introverted participants will not be expressed. The goal of the brainstorming is missed. As an alternative, many organisations use brainwriting.

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