Seven steps to a better brainstorm

All we need now is some brains
I was rather pleased to be interviewed the other day by CNN on the subject of brainstorming. It's one of those subjects that it's easy to mock, because it is often done so badly. It probably featured on The Office. Yet do it right and it's very powerful.

If you want to see brainstorming done badly, just watch an episode of The Apprentice. It's almost like they follow a rule book called 'How Not to Brainstorm' (or Brianstorm as I just typed). They sit round a whiteboard and think up ideas. Some get written down, some are ignored. Many will be argued with. And they end up with some fairly feeble ideas. And go with one. Not a great advert for the process.

If you are going to brainstorm I'd suggest seven steps for success:
  1. Make sure you are addressing the right problem. Don't rush in and assume you know what it is you need to do. Quickly think through just what it is you are trying to achieve and see if their are alternative problems to solve that would give a better solution.
  2. Use a technique to generate ideas. When Alex Osborn devised brainstorming he never intended people just to sit down and wait for inspiration. Use a simple idea generation technique, like using a randomly selected picture to generate a string of associations, then apply each of those associations as a starting point to solving your problem. (If that description is too condensed, see the ebook below for more details.) That way you will come at things differently and are more likely to come up with fresh ideas. It's fine to use top-of-the-head ideas too, but they often won't be the best.
  3. No negatives, no editing. All new ideas are easy to shoot down. Collect all ideas at this stage, however impractical. Make sure whoever is writing up captures everything - don't let them edit as they go. Stop anyone in their tracks if they try to criticize an idea.
  4. Give it some structure. I like putting each idea on a Post-it note. That way, when you've collected them you can move them around and structure them, bringing similar ideas together etc. Alternatively capture the ideas on a mind map, preferably using software and projecting the result on a big screen so everyone can see - that way you can restructure easily.
  5. Choose wisely. Don't select ideas on practicality, but rather on wow factor. It's much easier to take an exciting but impractical idea and make it practical than it is to take a practical but dull idea and give it appeal. Give everyone an imaginary £100 to vote with. They can put it all on their favourite idea, or split it as they like, but make sure they vote on appeal, not practicality. Be prepared to go back and develop more than one idea.
  6. Improve the ideas. Once you've selected an idea, refine it. Identify the key good points. Then find the main things wrong with. Finally improve the idea to get rid of the bad points, but keep the good points in front of you as a reminder. It's very easy to lose these as you fix the bad. Make sure your fixes don't wipe out the benefits.
  7. Prepare for selling and implementation. It's very easy when you're all excited about an idea to rush out and tell everyone without thinking about practicalities. Make sure you know how you are going to sell your idea to anyone who has to give it the go-ahead, and have an outline of how you will implement it. That way you are much more likely to get it into practice.
It sounds a lot, but it's actually very simple - and makes all the difference. If you want to find out a bit more I have a free ebook Instant Brainstorming you can download here.


  1. Generally speaking, the Apprentice is a great advert for all that is wrong with business


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