Let's explore what is Brainstorming and it's uses in business and personal life. Once you have understood what it is, you may find it useful to learn how to conduct a brainstorm session

Brainstorming - You can't say that!

Firstly let me deal with some stigma attached to the use of the word Brainstorming. I ran a session in the UK once and a delegate took great offence at me using the word Brainstorm. This was awkward on two counts,
1). I didn't want to offend her, and
2). the word was part of an acronym so 'B' for brainstorming was important to spell the acronym correctly.

"You can't say brainstorming, it's offensive, you have to say 'Thought-Shower'!" she said, "Using Brainstorm is against Council policy!"

I asked why it was so offensive, and she said it is "offensive to people with epilepsy, so you cannot use it!"

I since found it wasn't against policy in that council, it was advisory, not to use, but it did get me thinking. I did some research and I found an interesting article by UK charity Epilepsy Action Is brainstorming offensive?

Because of Epilepsy Action's viewpoint I do continue to use the word brainstorm, in the context of ideas generation. No offence is meant or intended.

NB: Please check in the place you are running the Brainstorm that it's use is not banned or offensive, as despite the Epilepsy Action advice, it may be unacceptable locally.

But anyway, regardless, this article is designed to explain what brainstorming is!

What is Brainstorming?

Brainstorming is an ideas generation tool, that can be used individually or within a group.

The concept is simple, in a short amount of time, write down ideas, once an idea is mentioned then it often 'sparks' another similar idea or opposite idea. This is where the 'brainstorm' element comes in as it new ideas are 'sparked'.

brainstorm header

Brainstorming uses

Either individually or in a group, remotely or onsite, brainstorming is a great way to generate creative ideas or next steps.

Example of where is is useful:

  • Planning a presentation
  • Process change
  • Improving customer service
  • Generating new business/sales
  • Team meetings
  • Training sessions
  • New product or service
  • Training sessions

How it works

As humans we often think in straight lines, up and down, side to side, so the brainstorm process 'sparks' more creative thinking.

If I asked you to think of ways to improve something, let's say for example, your fitness, you will no doubt come up with some ideas.

how to brainstorm

Some people list what they can do. This is vertical thinking.

Improve fitness

Go to gym

Treadmill

Yoga

Spinning

In the example the ideas flow one after another, logically, in a pattern, UP and DOWN with very little creativity.

Other people make links, 'associate' things, from a topic. This is lateral thinking

Improve fitness

Go to gym

Eat healthily

Drink more water

Walk to work

And some people will do both, lateral and vertical thinking.

Improve fitness

Go to gym

Treadmill

Yoga

Spinning

Eat healthily

No/Low Carbs

More fruit

More vegetables

Drink more water

Glass every meal

Buy water bottle

No fizzy drinks

Walk to work

New route daily

Buy pedometer

Buy trainers

Don't take lift
(In this example a new lateral idea 'sparked off')

There are some differences between lateral and vertical thinking, understanding what your preference is will allow you to expand your thinking.

Brainstorming is a powerful tool that cuts across lateral and vertical thinking. It allows you to have a more random, less rigid, approach, almost anything goes.

Typically to do this a 'spider graph' or 'mindmap' diagram is used. With a simply oval/cloud/shape in the centre with ideas spiking off. The ideas can come off any stem, with any new ideas added, with ovals or not.

Hover over the picture to show a before and after example.

brainstorm example

In summary

Brainstorming is a tool to enable creative thinking, in a group or individually. Really useful to get views, ideas and opinions from others, or for planning your own next steps.

Why not try it for yourself. Here are some useful 'rules' that will help you run a brainstorm session

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!
Phil