Re-Inventing Brainstorming – Ten Tenets for Better Idea Generation

Brainstorming – the creation of new or possible ideas – is a critical part of any problem solving or creative process. We all know it. We know that we must have ideas in order find solutions to problems. We even know that the more ideas we find, the better chance we’ll have of creating the best possible solution.

Yet our brainstorming processes fall woefully short.

Not because we don’t know the “rules” of brainstorming – every group will tell me those:

- no evaluation of the ideas now (we’ll do that afterward)
- the more ideas the better
- it is ok to build on other people’s ideas
- there are no dumb ideas

That isn’t the problem (though even these rules sometimes aren’t followed and that can be a problem as well).

The problem is that we try to brainstorm without a clear problem statement, in the middle of a long meeting, when people are already tired, and they are sitting in a relatively (or totally) sterile, uncreative space. Then, as if by magic, people who for the most part, don’t consider themselves to be highly creative are expected to create the ideas that will make a difference with the product, process or problem.

It may not be impossible, but the deck is certainly stacked against us in these situations.

I believe we need to re-invent the brainstorming process at work. Here are my tenets for this re-invented process.

1. We brainstorm only after we have a collective understanding of the process or problem.

2. We provide the needed clarity with a clear statement of the problem. (Most often this may be phrased as a question.)

3. Just as we warm up before going for a run or swinging a golf club, we warm up our brains before we start brainstorming. While there are many ways to do this, we pick at least one from the following list:

- We stand up and stretch.
- We laugh.
- We do some sort of brain teaser or otherwise exercise our minds.
- We brainstorm on something fun or funny briefly, knowing that this warm up help us create more ideas when we are working on the “real” problem.

4. We recognize that “warming” up our bodies and our brains may take a couple of minutes, but that this is an investment in much greater results.
5. We honor the pause or break in the brainstorming process. We know that after the pause, more ideas will come to our minds. We trust ourselves and the creative process enough to overlook the momentary silence.
6. We treat each idea with reverence, knowing that even if the idea as stated might seem odd we know that within it may be the seed of our solution.
7. We also recognize that some of the biggest ideas for progress in our world were once scoffed at and ridiculed as impossible. We think of the airplane, the internet, the telephone and the television as ideas that were thought of in this way and we realize an idea like those could show up on our list of ideas.
8. We claim our own creativity. While we may not always feel creative, or haven’t seemed to be creative in the past, we believe we are capable of amazing creativity. We therefore expect ourselves to be successful.

When we as individual, teams and organizations adopt these tenets, our creative capacity will begin to soar.

I wrote what you have read so far several years ago. Today I will add two new tenets for you, making an even ten.

9.  We value each other in the brainstorming process.  We recognize the value each person brings to the table and remember that the unique mix of people in the room means that ideas will spark, and things will happen that will lead to a unique list that couldn’t have been created without everyone there.

10.  We value time in the process.  We not only take time to warm up, and value the pause, we recognize that sometimes the best ideas come much later, and whenever possible we keep our minds – and our lists - open for new ideas and solutions.

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  1. says

    What great guidelines for brainstorming. We tend to follow most of these in our office, but reminders great. Brainstorming can become “too much work” and to be able to provide clear direction, a way to clear the mind and a positive environment goes a long way. Thanks for sharing.

  2. says

    Love this Kevin! Much of the work I do with clients revolves around brainstorming and its such an INVALUABLE tool and what’s more – ITS FUN!!! And you’re right – the collective energy/ideas coming from the group are so much greater than the sum of the parts…great info – thanks!

  3. says

    Great list, I agree! I especially like your emphasis on getting clear on the problem. One point I might add is that: Remember brainstorming is not the only tool. Some people get a lot of inspiration by being off by themselves and letting ideas and thoughts incubate. This recognition is an elaboration possibly of your point #10 about time? Brainwriting, brainwalking, and journalling are all possible tools for those of us who like to ponder and whose creativity may ignite in private!


  1. [...] – We stand up and stretch.- We laugh.- We do some sort of brain teaser or otherwise exercise our minds.- We brainstorm on something fun or funny briefly, knowing that this warm up help us create more ideas when we are working on the “real” problem. Read full article by Kevin Eikenberry via [...]

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