Brainstorming is a structured process to capture a group’s ideas relating to a topic or issue.

The term "brainstorming" has a bad reputation.

It's become business jargon because most people go about brainstorming haphazardly.

Brainstorming Process

"Let's brainstorm that!" is a statement that has always made my skin crawl a little as everyone readies themselves to pump out random ideas.

Having a structured approach to how you brainstorm increases the quality and efficiency of your efforts.

The process below gives you that structured approach. If you use it you won't waste your participant's time and you'll get a lot of great ideas.

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    To generate and capture a wide variety of ideas in a short space of time.
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    To capture as many free-flowing ideas as possible.

When Would You Use It?

  • Whenever you have an idea that needs “working”.
  • Whenever you need to involve other people in exploring an issue or idea.
  • Whenever you need to involve other people to explore an issue and/or its resolution.

"The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas."

Are There Any Rules?

People MUST feel free to contribute ideas in a creative manner, and so:

  • No criticism e.g. “Oh what a silly idea”.
  • No idea is a bad idea.
  • “Free Wheeling” welcome.
  • Quantity of ideas is needed – don’t hang back from just saying what is in your head.
  • No questions during the session.
  • State ideas quickly and in a manner in which no enlargement is needed.
  • Don’t mind stating the obvious.
  • Don’t fear repetition.
  • Do combine and improve on other ideas.

Be considerate of the different styles people display during brainstorming – try and create the right environment for everyone to contribute.

Resources Required

  • Flipchart.
  • Pens.
  • Sticky dots (in case you vote at the end).
  • Lots of open wall space.


In brainstorming it is important that the roles are clear and that one person does not try to undertake two roles.

  • Issue Owner – the person who wants the answer or the output.
  • Facilitator – the person who is facilitating the session and whose tasks are set out on the following slide.
  • Expert – may be an expert in the subject matter.
  • Contributors – people contributing towards the brainstorm.


  • Think carefully about who should be invited.
  • How are you going to explain clearly what the issue is?
  • What structure needs to be designed?
  • One topic area or sub-sets?
  • Everyone works on everything or break into groups working on parts?
  • One session or multiple sessions?
  • Length of session?
  • Does the brainstorming form part of another activity?
  • Suggestions:
  • Keep focused upon the subject.
  • Develop and maintain a tight brief.
  • Keep to time.


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    The Facilitator should run and control the process and should capture ideas with no judgements and contribute few ideas themselves.
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    The Facilitator kicks off the session by clearly stating the problem or issue and ensures there is a shared understanding of the situation.
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    The Facilitator explains the process / structure of the session paying special attention to the time limit and what is likely to happen next as a result.
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    Phase 1 – Idea Generation (objective = volume of ideas):
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    The Participants are encouraged to start contributing ideas.
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    The scribe should note ALL ideas as given – in the words of the Participants - no judgements should be made.
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    After the brainstorming time is up points of clarification can be requested.
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    Phase 2 – Idea Grouping (objective = structure ideas into common themes):
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    The Participants examine the ideas one by one and either expand, combine or eliminate some.
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    Ideas can be grouped if they are saying the same thing.
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    Phase 3 – Idea Review (objective = identify “nugget” ideas that run across groups/themes):
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    If the ideas require prioritizing, Participants may then be invited to place Post-It notes on the resulting flip-charts with their personal votes for the first, second and third highest positions.
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    If required, a visible output (e.g. a series of flip-charts) can then summarized into typed or graphical format and distributed to the appropriate stakeholders.

Secret Sauce

  • If the group is very large, you may split the group into sub-groups and combine the results at a later stage.
  • People will naturally comment on other people’s ideas. It’s human nature. As the Facilitator your main job in Phase 1 is to make sure this doesn’t happen by politely reminding people of the rules. Try and do that in a humorous way so you keep the atmosphere light and creative.
  • Make sure something happens after the session with the ideas and output. When nothing happens as a result after a brainstorming session it makes it much harder to effectively run sessions like this in the future.

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About the Author

Nick Martin helps leaders & consultants improve team results with resources, advice & coaching through

  • David Gripper says:

    Additional secret sauce:
    Initial idea generation is often better if done individually and written on post-its to get a first crop of ideas that can then be built on by group thinking.
    Having one or two people who have no involvement with the subject creates insights and lets you see the ‘wood’ not just the ‘trees’ – they are not limited by preconceptions.
    Use ‘positive intent’: you cannot negatively criticise an idea but (or unless) you can improve it.

  • Shewly Akhter says:

    i can not download pdf file

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