Before we run through how to run a brainstorm, I wanted to address the issue of using the word 'brainstorm'.

Is brainstorming offensive?- It has been suggested and indeed I have been challenged on the use of the word Brainstorming, in particular it being offensive - you may find this guidance note from Epilepsy Action useful. Because of this guidance, I do use the word, but I am sensitive to the fact that some people can find it offensive, and will refer them to Epilepsy Action.


Epilepsy Action Guidance

"The word 'brainstorming' is not offensive to the vast majority of people with epilepsy, according to a survey carried out by Epilepsy Society in 2005. The word has been used since the 1940s to describe the method of problem-solving or generating ideas where all present at a meeting make spontaneous suggestions. In the last year, it has been reported in the press that both the Welsh Development Agency and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Belfast have deemed the word brainstorming to be politically incorrect, with 'thought-showers' suggested as a suitable replacement.

However, in the survey, 93 per cent of people with epilepsy did not find the term derogatory or offensive in any way and many felt that this sort of political correctness singled out people with epilepsy as being easily offended. In separate research, we asked for the views of people with epilepsy on the matter. One commented:

"I have no objection whatsoever to the term brainstorming. I am sure the public do not, in any way, associate this with epilepsy so why should we?"

Our view is that it depends upon the context: if the word is being used to describe a meeting where participants are suggesting ideas, then its use is not offensive to people with epilepsy. However, it should not be used to describe a seizure or the electrical activity within the brain during a seizure."

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So let us know explore the most effective way to run a brainstorm session. These rules will enable you to engage people in the process.

a brain that has sparks flying out

I recommend the following stages and timings to ensure energy and control of the brainstorm.


STAGE ONE - SETUP - 2 minutes- Setup and explain the objective and process.

  1. Allocate the appropriate roles in the group, chairperson, timekeeper, scribe etc.
  2. Agree the objective of the brainstorm
  3. Agree the time allocation
  4. Place the appropriate heading on the flip chart or board
  5. Start the ideas coming and record them so as they are visible to the whole group
  6. Use creativity techniques to stimulate a wider range of ideas
  7. Follow the ground rules
  8. After the brainstorm evaluate the ideas against the original objective getting group members to elaborate on their idea if clarification is required.
  9. Ideas can also be grouped into classifications and the most appropriate selected.

Run the brainstorm - I recommend you running a brainstorm for a maximum of 5 minutes, so that the energy of the brainstorm doesn't dwindle.

After 5 minutes, if there are still ideas flowing then you can continue in blocks of 30 seconds

Before running the brainstorm explain the following ground rules to ensure smooth running and participation.

  • No criticism - do not allow anyone to criticise any ideas in the brainstorm, leave to the consolidation stage.
  • Freewheel - allow ideas to come from anyone
  • Creativity and volume - have a high intensity
  • Record all ideas - capture everything said *
  • No discussion - don't allow discussion on ideas or off topic.

*I personally capture exactly what people say. For example if they say 'Meet with marketing team', I write 'Meet with marketing team' not 'Marketing team'. The reason for this is when it comes to consolidating ideas people will recognise their ideas if written verbatim, rather than my interpretation.

*However, I do not capture anything inflammatory or discriminatory

Consolidation of ideas - Once complete consolidate the ideas into a action plan.

This means have a discussion on the ideas to agree what you will take forward. Ideas can be critiqued at this stage.

Variations on a theme - If you use negative brainstorming ie ‘how can we really mess up customer service’ it often stimulates more ideas! Then review the opposites to compile an action plan.

DO NOT LEAVE the results of these negative brainstorming sessions on display to the public!

About the author

phil laviolettephil laviolette

Hi!, I'm Phil LaViolette, Founder and Owner of evalu8d. I created resourcily to share hints, tips and resources I've collected over 20 years of training and coaching, across lots of industries and at all levels. I hope that, even in a small way, you gain from the tools I share!