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May 01, 2016 Sunday 06:03:21 PM IST

Storm your brain pool to churn out Novel Ideas

Creative Living

Developed and popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in his 1953 book Applied Imagination, brainstorming methods have established themselves as a major tool for gathering new ideas. In the initial years the method was primarily used to generate novel ideas for advertising campaigns. It is used currently in diverse spheres including, development of marketing strategy, research and development procedures, new products and services, storyline of a movie, government policy, investment decisions and entrepreneurial decision making. It is so frequently used that sometimes the original concepts defining the method have been rendered to oblivion. The main objective of this article is to recapture the original insights of Osborn, so that this method could be effectively wielded to generate creative ideas and concepts.


Osborn described brainstorming as: “a conference technique by which a group attempts to find a solution for a specific problem by amassing all the ideas spontaneously made by its members.” He observed that the ideation efficacy of the participants can be radically improved once they shed their social inhibitions and are encouraged to voice their ideas irrespective of how silly they may appear. As the participants acquire sufficient freedom of mind, they become prolific in their thinking and in its expression. The different rules of the classical brainstorming session stem out of this original insight. The four golden rules of brainstorming given by Osborn were:


Defer criticism of ideas so that the participants feel free to generate unusual ideas.

Go for large number of ideas, following the maxim: Quantity breeds quality.

Welcome wild ideas, which could serve as a springboard to realistic solutions.

Combine and build on each others’ ideas to synergize the concepts making them a whole.



Each of these rules is founded upon sound principles of creative thinking. Freedom of mind is absolutely necessary for initiating creative thinking. In an ambience where one feels uncomfortable or threatened creative juice will generally dry up. In front of a group that randomly criticizes the new ideas, people tend to shy away from expressing their view-points. Hence debates are not solicited to generate new ideas; they are rather required to refine the novel ideas already generated. The rule of deferring criticism is precisely meant to deliberately develop an ecosystem where fertile thinking could take place. Whether quantity automatically leads to quality of idea is a heavily debated question ever since Osborn first stipulated this rule in 1953. Irrespective of all misgivings against this rule developed in the course of time, prolific thinking is considered an important aspect of a creative mind.

A creative person may suggest thousand solutions to a single problem; where as a non-creative person may stagnate on a single ideal solution, which may oftentimes be impractical. Hence to go for large number of ideas is a welcome approach in creative thinking. Further, the power of wild ideas to trigger creative thinking is a well-known. The wildness will allow our minds to transcend its beaten paths to capture the ideas beyond it. It may open up new horizons of reality and may lead to a truly novel solution to the problem at hand. Similarly, the attempt to combine one’s ideas with that of others is an exercise in synergy of ideas. According to the principle of synergy, “1 + 1 ≠ 2”. As an idea synergizes with another idea, a totally new idea is born, which is more efficacious than both the previous ideas. This again is an accepted principle in creative thinking. In other words, all the four rules of traditional brainstorming sessions are well-founded on the contemporary principles of creative thinking and hence brainstorming continues to be a major method of generating creative concepts.


Wikipedia provides a neat flowchart for a typical brainstorming session, which I reproduce here for easy reference:

A typical brainstorming session shall make a headway start, if the participants are experienced in the conduct of it. Otherwise, some warm-up exercises will precede the actual session. The problem will be explained thoroughly thereafter. The rules of the session, as stated above, will be presented and ideas will be called for. If ideas are not spontaneously available, some leads to it will be suggested by the leader. Otherwise, the session proceeds depending on the number of available ideas. If more number of ideas is at hand, the participants are requested to jot down their ideas to be presented to the group. In either case the presented ideas are elaborated depending on the available time and all of them are properly recorded without exception. If at the end of the stipulated time more than one ideas remains, the most associated idea (or idea with better synergy) among them is selected and others are requested to keep their ideas in writing. The process repeats itself till the allocated time for the session comes to an end with wrapping up of the ideas harvested during the session.


Classical brainstorming method may be rendered ineffective due to different reasons. A typical brainstorming session could be marred by Idea Blockade, where somebody expressing his/her idea causing others either to forget his/er idea completely or to make it repetitive and redundant.

Collaborative Fixation is another danger of group brainstorming, where an individual member of the group conforms an original idea to that of the other, and causing loss of flavor of the novelty of his/er own idea. Further, the beauty of a novel idea may get reduced when combined with another idea due to Lack of Synergy. This may disappoint individual members and deter them from being contributive to the brainstorming session. Similarly, certain Personality Traits may also come in the way of effective conduct of brainstorming sessions. Extroverts generally outperform introverts in a typical brainstorming session, which cause the introverts to shy away from contributing. This could come in the way of effective brainstorming. Social Matching poses another critical threat to the efficacy of a brainstorming session. Here, the individual members of the group are promoted to match his/er productivity with others in the group, which in effect may reduce effectiveness his/er contributions. Further, some creative participants will be tempted to Intentional Withholding of ideas, due to the lack of protection of intellectual property rights within a brainstorming session. They may carefully avoid significant contribution to a brainstorming session. Modern versions of brainstorming sessions are planned to reduce one or more blocks to effective brainstorming mentioned above. Currently there are individual and collective brainstorming procedures available with or without software support. In all these the traditional concerns of reduction of inhibitions, production of large number of ideas, allowance for crazy ideas and developing synergy of ideas are adequately met and the different blocks for effectiveness of brainstorming sessions are systematically removed.


Other than generating novel ideas, a good brainstorming praxis shall contribute to better management of the institution promoting participation of all stakeholders in the decision-making process. It shall contribute to increasing creativity of the individual members of the institution, to creating a more pleasant working environment, to fostering bettering employee relations, to lessening conflicts and arguments and hence to improving productivity and visibility of the institution. The institution will turn more and more democratically run, benefitting its continual growth and sustainable development.

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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