Brainstorming Techniques: How to Innovate in Groups

Unleashing the Power of Group Brainstorming: Techniques for Generating Innovative Ideas

Brainstorming is a group thinking process fueled by creativity. It allows teams to approach a problem or a challenge in a way that promotes thinking out of the box and allows those who under a strict corporate hierarchy may not have been taken note of for years. The first to notice this was Alex Osborn, founder and CEO of marketing firm BBDO, who in the 1940s began formulating rules and guidelines to promote creative problem solving in a business setting. Nowadays, brainstorming is among the most popular thinking processes employed everywhere from the executives meeting to family holiday decisions. So, how does it work?


If you have a real problem, brainstorming is a good way to come up with a solution or two. As the name suggests, the idea is that you storm on the neural pathways through the brain to pick a lot of thoughts quickly and intuitively. It’s best to do this with a group of diverse people, so you have lots of different brains to explore. This leads to the creation of more ideas and maybe new solutions.

Brainstorming Problem

Before you start, make sure you solve the right problem. Einstein said, to solve a problem “I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it.” Tina Seelig, a well-known professor on creativity, teaches to define a problem by reframing the question. For example, by simply asking “Why?” Say you brainstorm ideas for a birthday party for your mom, you can ask: “Why do we organize birthday parties?” You might then realize that we do them to make people feel special. Then ask “How can I make my mom feel special?” Now a totally different idea might come up.

Once you define the real problem, it’s time to start. Here are 3 ways:

Brainstorming Start

First is guided group brainstorming. Get some markers and a whiteboard or some post-it notes. Then invite the participants, these are your brains. Company bosses, teachers or other authorities are advised to stay outside or facilitate, their authority can intimidate shy people from speaking up.

Brainstorming Rules

Then lay out the 4 ground rules of brainstorming:

1. Go for quantity – get out all the ideas, no matter how silly

2. Withhold criticism – there are no bad ideas

3. Welcome crazy ideas – the wilder the better

4. Build on other people’s ideas – listen to them first and then add “yes and…”

Brainstorming Write

Now you can start. Write the problem as a question on the whiteboard. Then ask all of your brains to throw in their ideas. As a facilitator, keep the discussion focused on the topic. To ensure that people don’t speak over one another, you can provide a talking stick which is passed around. Note down all ideas and put them up for everyone to see. Remind people to add on to ideas. If Ann thinks of: “let’s build a cool umbrella” Jay can say: “YES and let’s make it one that flies too…”. If someone did kill a good idea, the facilitator can always bring it back to life to throw it back on the table.

Brainstorming Record

At the end of the session, see if there are two ideas that can be combined. In brainstorming, the slogan is: 1+1=3. Then let the team vote to know which are the most popular ones. You can now either start with another round of brainstorming to build on those ideas, or if you are happy with the solution, bring it to an end. Finally, record your best ideas, so you don’t lose them.


Brainstorming Nominal Group

The second way of brainstorming is the nominal group technique. Explain the ground rules and present the problem. Then ask each person to write their ideas anonymously. Collect the ideas and let the group vote on each idea. The top ranked ideas may be sent back to the participants or subgroups for further brainstorming. For example, one group may brainstorm on the form of a product, while the other focuses on the technical features.

Brainstorming Group Passing


The third way is called the group passing technique. Let people sit in a circle, explain the rules and present the problem. Each person writes down one idea, and then passes the piece of paper to the next person, who adds some thoughts. This continues until everybody gets his or her original piece of paper back. By this time, it is likely that the group will have extensively elaborated on each idea. Let everyone explain their evolved idea and write each one up. You can then let the group vote.

Brainstorming can be done on your own too! If you want to give it a go, check out our classroom activity example below.


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