How to Brainstorm


  1. Always define your question as tightly as possible. I define creativity as ‘flexible thinking around beautiful questions to add value’. Outstanding creativity is not coming up with 1001 different alternatives; it’s actually about asking the right question, the beautiful question. You can tell when you have a beautiful question your ideas ooze out. Conversely, if you are stuck, you can’t think of any ideas, go back to redefining your question.

2. Creative thinking uses an incremental dynamic once you have posed your question – like making a snowball. Treat every idea as a potential stepping stone. It’s best to work from small, asking yourself what little ideas can we think of, and equally accept crazy ideas, asking what ways can these be incrementally adapted to add value.

 3. Brainstorming is a great consultation tool and can be a great tactic to overcome political opposition to new ideas. By involving someone who typically says ‘No’ to your new ideas, and get them become a member of the brainstorm group, by engaging with them with the process, they get ownership of the ideas created. It’s easier to get someone to say ‘Yes’ when you tell them ‘Isn’t this a great idea we came up with!’

Also, if you are doing a consultation exercise, rather than ask people, ‘What do you think?’, instead ask them, ‘What new future can we create?’

4. Brainstorming’s chief quality is actually outside the arena of creativity; it’s great for team building, staff development – where junior and senior people can work alongside each other – and for signalling the importance of an issue. Remember however, there are many more different creativity techniques, which can be better at generating ideas, particularly the most simplest of all, incubation, sleeping on a well defined problem.

How not to brainstorm

  1. I created a word called ‘Ideapoo’ – you need to accept that most of your ideas will be rubbish, ‘poo’, but at the outset you have no idea of what are the good, or the not-so-good ideas. The danger is you can throw away potentially good seeds, or stepping stones, only seeing the poo and not the potential. Premature evaluation, being judgmental too soon is a major killer of potential brilliance.

 2. Creative thinking uses what I call our Red Light Thinking, to analyse, follow logical lines of thought, and our Green Light Thinking, harnessing our imaginative, emotional, and lateral thoughts.

You need to Red Light Thinking at the outset, to define the need for any added value, and crucially, define your questions. You can then engage your Green Light Thinking for new insights, and lastly re-engage your Red Light Thinking to evaluate ideas, and identify plans of action. Far too often, people engage in what can be called creative masturbation, generating ideas with no proper setting or follow through. Most people equate brainstorming with idea generating and expect a result at this stage, and often give up. It’s like leaving a football match or an opera at half time and complaining afterwards that there wasn’t an end result.

 3. Always establish at the outset criteria for your ideas. When you come to evaluate any ideas generated, rather than responding with ‘I like this one’ instead, with a criterion in place you can judge ideas on more formal, objective grounds.

 4. Check the attitude state of yourself and the participants. You can suffer from a victim mentality – where everything is seen in the negative, or hubris, where you can be too arrogant and not listen, or be alert to potentially good ideas (such as Ideapoo). I created a word, ‘hibris’ where you need to have an arrogant self belief about your ability to come up with ideas, tempered with a humility that you are willing to listen and pick up ideas from the unlikeliest of sources. Many a potentially good brainstorm session has been wrecked by an unsupportive, underlying attitude state. 

Remember, the word ‘brainstorming’ is politically correct; there’s an urban myth going around that the word is not politically correct and it upsets people with epilepsy and you should instead, use ‘brain showering’. It’s absolute nonsense. No epilepsy group has any policy on the issue.

Also, note the word ‘brainstorm’ can either mean a specific creativity tool, or shorthand for doing, what I call ‘Green Light Thinking’ – using lateral leaps of imagination to arrive at new ideas, different ways of doing.


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