Brainstorming: A guide by Think Inc

There are many techniques for unlocking creativity. They range from the lateral thinking of Edward de Bono to the mind-mapping of Tony Buzan or, indeed, the hot baths of Archimedes.

Brainstorming, however, is the queen of idea-generation techniques and by far the best known.

Born on Madison Avenue in the middle of the last century, brainstorming was long considered the preserve of those wild and crazy folk in advertising. In more recent years, however, it has spread at a growing rate into the business mainstream. It is now used by businesses of all kinds, not to mention everyone from civil servants to scientists and engineers – or, indeed, anyone these days with a problem to solve and a need for ideas to solve it.

The use of brainstorming has increased a thousand-fold in the last decade, estimates one leading business psychology consultancy. And this already dramatic rate of increase seems to be growing. It never brains but it storms. Brainstorming is the new boom.

There are, in fact, many techniques of brainstorming, but at its simplest, brainstorming means assembling a bunch of people to voice whatever ideas come to them on the subject at hand.

It is, by one definition, merely a collective problem-solving process that brings people together and encourages them to spark ideas off each other. It is also, when it works, one of the best ways of generating a lot of ideas in a short time.

Some people use the term ‘brainstorming’ in a loose way, to denote the act of getting together to share ideas, or merely shoot the breeze.

A good brainstorm, however, should follow a certain formal structure, whose essence was best articulated by the headmaster in Alan Bennett’s play, Forty Years On, when he said, “I’m all in favour of free expression, provided it’s kept rigidly under control”.