Tips for creative brainstorming


In 1953 advertising executive Alex Faickney published Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem Solving, a book in which he shared various insights he had learned about creative thinking while working at one of the largest ad agencies in the United States, BBDO.

One of the creative strategies Alex shared in Applied Imagination was that of group brainstorming. The idea of getting a number of people together in a room to brainstorm ideas was big with Alex because of a number of test groups he ran.

Despite Alex’s optimism for it, group brainstorming doesn’t really work.

Even with the difficulties spurred by group brainstorming (the illusion of group productivity, members feeling as though their ideas aren’t worthwhile, and more), brainstorming itself is something that is very much worthwhile, and something Alex understood.

In order to effectively think creatively, Alex believed, you have to follow two basic principals: first, defer judgement. And two, focus on quantity.

Judgement hinders possibilities. It’s the exact opposite mode of thinking than creativity because it focuses on evaluating what already exists, whereas creativity focuses on the generating of something new. Focusing on quantity is a surefire way to have good ideas.

There are two additional methods for brainstorming that are very much worth exercising.

Embracing unusual ideas is a remarkable way to increase the quantity of ideas (which, you’ll recall, is our focus). Unusual ideas are often spurred from new perspectives or random association. Whatever it takes, welcome unusual ideas (defer judgment).

Lastly, if you want to be successful at brainstorming, do what all of great inventors do: combine ideas.

All of these methods – focus on quantity, defer judgement, embracing unusual ideas, and combining existing ideas – feed into one another and are the simplest way to brainstorm more ideas.

The next time you need to brainstorm, be sure to do it on your own (you can combine ideas as a group later on) and follow these guidelines. And for more great insights into brainstorming and ideation, checkout this old interview with Ze Frank on Imaginary Audiences.

Photo by Oliver Thompson.