Skill level: Basic


Brainstorming is a structured method of generating unconstrained ideas and solutions. It generates engagement and involvement in the process by all participants.

The process of brainstorming can take different paths depending on the group, individual participants, and the facilitator’s skills. There is no one “right” brainstorming method; all are valid as long as the facilitator feels comfortable with the approach.

Brainstorming is one critical step in problem solving and a tool that is easy to use. When well executed, it delivers great results.


  • Produces many ideas and solutions during a very short time
  • Involves people and teamwork and creates flow and synergy
  • Facilitates the creative thinking process
  • Separates idea generation from the organization and assessment of the ideas
  • Facilitates team members’ integration and participation in problem solving

How to Use

  1. Step 1.  Review the problem definition. Make sure everyone understands the objectives and how the process will work. Explain the method and process that you will use (see below for various methods).
  2. Step 2.  Clarify the goal or question, and provide any relevant information. Check with participants to make sure they understand the process.
  3. Step 3.  Encourage creativity and clarify the rules – there’s no criticism of ideas and there are no bad ideas or suggestions.
  4. Step 4.  Give everyone a few minutes of silence to think about the question and individually write down some ideas.
  5. Step 5.  Gather ideas and post them on the wall so everyone can see them.
  6. Step 6.  Let the team work on the ideas by regrouping them in a logical order, using a stratification approach. If clarification is needed, ask the person who provided the idea to explain it. Be careful when doing this, because people tend to analyze ideas immediately and argue. Keep the participants focused on the first objective: to have as many ideas as possible.

Relevant Definitions

Stratification: The action of regrouping elements with similar shape, form, function, or ideas into, or under, one single title, header, or name.

Example: Exercise (activities, being in shape, having energy, run, walk)

Brainstorming Techniques

  • Use Post-it® notes and instruct participants to write one idea per Post-it. Ask them to place their ideas on the wall. Once all ideas are posted, the team will have to rearrange them in logical groups (stratification).
  • Use an open floor technique, where each participant receives a turn to communicate ideas verbally while a facilitator (or scribe) records them on a flip chart or whiteboard.
  • Use a moving idea or paper trail technique. Each participant receives a sheet of paper with the problem statement written on the top. After writing an idea, he or she passes the sheet to the right while picking up the sheet on his or her left. Participants continue adding ideas to the sheets, and the sheets keep moving around the table until all ideas are exhausted.


The head of a marketing group wants to understand why the organization is having difficulties gaining new clients and what can be done to fix the issue and continue to expand the client base.

The problem was defined as follows: “We have not been able to expand our client base during the last 12 months, and we are on the verge of losing long-time clients. Our approach to campaigning does not deliver what our customers expect.”

A team is assembled to brainstorm and find out “why” the department is not as successful as it used to be. The team includes people from the marketing and sales department, information technology, the call centers, and management.

Using the Post-it technique, the team lists various ideas to address the “why.” A total of 67 items are listed. As the team works together to group these ideas, they exclude two items which are solutions and create six headers (issues) for the remaining 65 ideas to fall under.

As a team, they rank the main issues in order of importance using a simple voting technique in order to establish some focus and an action plan. By order of importance, the issues are ranked as follows:

  1. Benchmarking – 160
  2. Equipment – 120
  3. Technology – 80
  4. Market shift – 60
  5. Skills – 60
  6. Creativity – 40

The team generates many ideas to improve their benchmarking technique and the time spent benchmarking other agencies. They also consider ways to enhance their equipment to be more up-to-date and appealing to the new generation of managers and business leaders for marketing campaigns.


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