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You’re Probably Not Brainstorming Long Enough

Source | FastCompany : By NEIL PAVITT

There are lots of problems with brainstorms, but the main one is they don’t go on for long enough. They usually stop when people have run out of ideas and you get those embarrassing silences. But those embarrassing silences are when your unconscious starts engaging on the problem and is a vital part to coming up with great ideas.

The way brainstorms are practiced in most companies today is still almost exactly the same way that was recommended by their inventor, advertising executive Alex Osborn, over 60 years ago. Business and our understanding of how the brain works have both moved on so much in that time, and yet we’re still hanging onto this old technique for so many of our idea-gathering sessions.

Here’s how to rethink your brainstorm so it goes for longer than you’re used to, but proves much more productive once it’s over.


The fact is, brainstorms do have a useful part to play in solving problems. They can be very useful at the start and the end of the process. The trouble is that a lot of the time they’re used as the only part of the process.

Here are some of the problems with the standard brainstorm:

  • The more extroverted characters often dominate the session.
  • Early ideas tend to disproportionately influence the direction the session takes.
  • You listen and focus on other people’s ideas and don’t spend time thinking about your own. When we hear someone else’s solution, it’s like a magnet and it pulls our focus towards it.
  • After the idea generation process, the decision makers tend to choose the moderately creative over the highly creative ideas.

In his 1953 book Applied Imagination, Osborn introduced the concept of the brainstorm because he claimed it was more effective in generating ideas than individuals working alone.

But around the same time Bill Bernbach, of the advertising agency DDB, also introduced the idea of a team of people working together to solve ideas. It’s just that his idea of the “creative team” involved only two people. And they wouldn’t just try to come up with ideas in one-hour times slots, but day in, day out. In most companies these days, Bernbach’s approach is still pretty rare.

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