Brainstorming Resources

Brainstorming is an ideation technique for coming up with many possible solutions to a given problem. While brainstorming, you’re in divergent thinking mode, which is a generative, open, and creative mindset that can help you get to innovative solutions. Of course, the more diverse the experiences and perspectives of the people around the table, the richer the results of your brainstorming efforts. 

Brainstorming is a muscle that you can build through practice. Explore the tips, techniques, and recommendations we’ve gathered from IDEO experts to help take your brainstorming skills to the next level.

How to Plan a Brainstorming Session

If you’re wondering how to set up a brainstorm, think about the meeting in three phases. Get the most out of everyone’s time by planning ahead.

  • Phase 1: Set Up
    1. Frame a question grounded in an insight to guide the group’s thinking.
    2. Share inspiration and insights from competitive and analogous research.
    3. Embrace a mindset of curiosity, using the rules of brainstorming as a guide.
  • Phase 2: Facilitation
    1. Loosen people up with a creative warm up.
    2. Start with heads-down individual brainstorming.
    3. Share ideas as a group and build on each other’s concepts.
  • Phase 3: Follow Up
    1. Group ideas into buckets or themes.
    2. Vote on your favorite ideas.
    3. Define next steps and action items.

A brainstorm is often the starting point for new ideas. Once you’ve wrapped your brainstorming session, think about next steps. Explore your top ideas with more advanced ideation techniques like prototyping, experimentation, and iteration.

Brainstorming & Other Ideation Methods

Brainstorming is just one way to come up with ideas. It’s great for group settings, but there are many other ways to generate ideas. Here are a few methods to try:
  • Mash-Up
    Bring odd or unexpected things together to spark fresh ideas. Download the Mash-up Activity Worksheet.
  • E-storming
    Send an email prompt to collect ideas from friends or coworkers.
  • Other People’s Shoes
    Roleplay or draw a storyboard of your challenge from the perspective of a specific persona.
  • Idea Wall
    Put up a prompt in a public place along with sticky notes and sharpies and collect ideas several days later.
  • Analagous Interviews
    Speak to people in different industries who might have a different perspective on your challenge.
  • Silent Brainstorming
    Gather a group and share a prompt, but forgo discussion and instead have everyone write down ideas on sticky notes.
  • Rapid Ideation
    Limit yourself to 10 or 15 minutes and focus on coming up with as many ideas as possible.
  • Sketching
    Instead of words, use drawings and images to share ideas and activate a different part of your brain.
  • Observation
    Watch how people engage with a product or service to gain a new perspective and uncover hidden challenges or opportunities.
  • Surveying
    Wondering what your customers might like? Ask them with a survey to kick off an ideation session and set aside assumptions.
  • Constraints
    Try putting different limitations on your brainstorming prompt to push your thinking.
Pro Tip
For distributed or remote teams, some of these approaches may work better than others. Your best bet is to plan ahead and adapt the activity to be as inclusive as possible. The key to an effective ideation session is enabling all contributors to have a voice.
Dive Deeper
Find more activities to overcome creative barriers in IDEO U’s Unlocking Creativity online class.

Common Brainstorming Challenges

Facilitating an effective brainstorm is as much about knowing what obstacles to look out for as it is generating new ideas. In any brainstorm or ideation activity, look out for these 10 common challenges and course correct when you see them appear.
  • Groupthink
    The urge to conform to the group, even unconsciouly, overrides creative thinking and sharing of new ideas.
  • Office politics
    Participants feel obligated to support a leader’s idea or adopt a competitive mindset and feel like the brainstorm is a contest to prove individual ability.
  • Default to convergence
    We’re more conditioned to make choices than to come up with new ideas. It’s easy for a brainstorm to slip into decision-making mode before the best ideas have a chance to come out.
  • Going off topic
    Without a clear prompt or challenge, teams can waste brain power exploring unrelated ideas.
  • Lack of momentum
    Lots of great ideas are shared, but they don’t go anywhere after the brainstorm.
  • Wasting time
    A brainstorm can drag on for too long or fail to lead to any outcomes without proper planning both before and after the session.
  • Excluding introverts, remote workers, and/or individuals from underrepresented groups
    Some teammates might not feel comfortable speaking up in large group settings, and remote teammates may get left out of in-person meetings.
  • Emotional attachment
    It can feel personal to share your wild ideas. Watch out for people supporting ideas out of attachment more than logic.
  • Good ideas get lost
    f your brainstorm is rocketing along and you haven’t prepared to capture ideas, the best ones may get lost in the shuffle.
  • Lack of decision-making
    Teams can get stuck in the divergent mode and continue coming up with new ideas even when it’s time to narrow the focus.
Pro Tip
Psychological safety is eseential to really extract any value in brainstorming. Establishing the right conditions for your session will truly allow your tem to generative and explore beyond the obvious.
Dive Deeper
Find additional tips to help you avoid these common brainstorming pitfalls in IDEO U’s online course, Cultivating Creative Collaboration.

Brainstorming Resource Library

Here you’ll find everything from design thinking toolkits to articles and podcast episodes on brainstorming and divergent thinking.