Brainstorming, originally coined by Alex Osborn (The “O” from the ad agency BBDO), is often misunderstood as the entire creative problem solving (CPS) process. However, it is not. Brainstorming is the divergent thinking phase of the CPS process. It is not simply a group of people in a boardroom coming up with ideas in a disorganized fashion. Brainstorming at its core is generating lots of ideas in a clean, divergent method. This can be done as an individual or group, or through a crowd-sharing process.

The secret to creating the best new ideas is to separate your divergent thinking from your convergent thinking. This means generating lots and lots of options before you consider evaluating them.

Brainstorming is best achieved by following the Guidelines for Divergent Thinking:

  • Defer Judgment – Avoid making judgments about ideas in the divergent thinking phase.
  • Combine and Build – Use one idea to help spur other ideas, then build, combine, and improve those ideas.
  • Seek Wild Ideas – Stretch your imagination to create wild ideas. While these ideas may not all work, allowing yourself to think way outside of the box gives you room to discover extraordinary ideas.
  • Go for Quantity – Take the time necessary and use the tools in this guide to generate a substantial list of potential options (50 or more).

Once your brainstorming is complete, then it is critical to converge upon the best ideas using the Convergent Thinking Guidelines.