Chances are you've led or participated in a brainstorming session. Brainstorming is, after all, one of the most common tools for creative problem-solving. 

There’s a ton of content out there about it, but much of it isn’t based on research. My team and I dug into some academic studies around brainstorming to get to the heart of what works and what doesn't and how to do it properly.

That being said, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any helpful, well-researched articles available. Here are the pieces that I consider the cream of the crop and some of which helped inform our own eBook on the subject.

There are lots of brainstorming techniques out there, but sometimes all you need to do to uncover new ideas is to alter your perspective. We love this piece by John Boitnott for that gets back to the basics and discusses the tried, tested, and true brainstorming approaches that (still) work: 10 Longtime Brainstorming Techniques that Still Work. Though Boitnott considers these methods “the classics”, but we still found them to be new and refreshing.

Brainstorming is critical to the innovation process. In Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs, innovation consultant Bryan Mattimore outlines seven ideation techniques that are easy to learn, flexible to adapt to different types of creative challenges, and are diverse enough to deliver different types of ideas. A summary of Mattimore’s “super seven” brainstorming techniques are described in this Innovation Management piece by senior editor, Chuck Frey. These suggestions are sure to get your innovation flow going.   

Ten years ago, McKinsey led a team of consultants who developed an approach for brainstorming that involves posing concrete questions and orchestrating the process for answering those questions. The team has since used the method to engage 150 clients on major product innovations to simple process improvements. Breakthrough Thinking from Inside the Box in Harvard Business Review is an interesting read that discusses what this technique entails.

Tabata is high-intensity interval training strategy that alternates very short periods of intense exercise with less-intense recovery periods. What does this have to do with brainstorming? The results from Tabata are akin to the outcomes we look for in business: maximizing results in a limited timeframe. In the article A Fresh Approach to Brainstorming: 7 Quick Steps to Unlocking Ideas, Forbes contributor Christopher Frank shows us how use Tabata as a way to think differently about brainstorming.

Jonah Lehrer may be a controversial figure in academia, but his piece Groupthink: the brainstorming myth for the New Yorker is well-researched and worth a read. In it, Lehrer discusses the birth of brainstorming and argues why the concept doesn’t work because it doesn’t naturally promote criticism around ideas. He writes “The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together. It is the human friction that makes the sparks,” which is a conclusion we would have to agree with.

What research has shown time and time again is that brainstorming can be an effective technique for creative problem solving, but only when it’s used properly. It’s not the best approach for all ideation attempts and can be ineffective without understanding the limitations and challenges associated with it.

We created the Brainstorming Best Practices Guide for anyone responsible for facilitating a brainstorming session to help them get the most out of it (and to avoid some of the common mistakes many people make). The guide covers:

  • Brainstorming process and theory
  • How to facilitate brainstorming
  • Potential issues to avoid when brainstorming
  • Two best practices to get the most out of brainstorming

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