Lucas Brenner » Articles » Brainstorming Properly

In today's “knowledge economy”, brainstorming is becoming more and more important. But in many cases, brainstorming is neither productive nor effective. Yet you could already integrate the rules of brainstorming into your corporate culture and way of working today.

Brainstorming is based on three steps.[1] Five principles also make brainstorming more productive in groups.

How to Brainstorm Properly

Brainstorming consists of three steps:

  1. Becoming aware of the purpose and the desired outcome
  2. Writing down all the ideas
  3. Organizing the ideas, evaluating them and determining a plan of action

The first step is to be clear about why you are pursuing the project and what you hope to gain from brainstorming. Do you want to collect general ideas or solve a specific problem? The goals should be specifically defined so that you can give your subconscious a direction.

In the second step, you let your thoughts flow freely and you write down all ideas, regardless of their quality or feasibility. Do not interrupt the stream of thoughts of your subconscious! At best, write down your ideas by hand in a notepad or on the whiteboard.

Only in the third step, which you can also complete later, do you evaluate and organize the ideas. If ideas are inappropriate or not feasible, you can cross them off the list. The goal is to come up with an organized catalog of ideas and tasks at the end. From this collection, one then develops an action plan with the next steps.

At this point, the brainstorming is complete and you can start working on your tasks.

How to Brainstorm in Groups

Brainstorming in groups can be more difficult than collecting ideas alone. The group dynamic must be comfortable and no one must feel that their ideas will be criticized too soon.

The golden rule of group brainstorming is to allow all ideas and don't make rash judgments. Writing down all ideas in groups is probably even more important than when you brainstorm alone. As soon as someone feels that their ideas are not being taken seriously, inspiration disappears.

Also, everyone should be treated equally and allowed to contribute their ideas, regardless of role or experience. Every thought is valuable, no matter who it comes from.

In the action plan you create at the end, you should make concrete role and task assignments so that everyone knows what needs to be done next. Not knowing what to work on means wasted potential and is harmful to a productive company culture. You should organize your notes so that no insights are lost.

But no matter how well you implement the rules of brainstorming: it becomes unproductive when too many people participate. The number of participants should be limited to 2-5 people. With this group size, you are flexible enough to make adjustments during brainstorming and think in a new direction if necessary.

In summary, the brainstorming process should follow the three steps and you should remember the five principles for brainstorming in groups.


[1] David Allen is writing more about brainstorming in the sense of gathering commitments and tasks in his book “Getting Things Done,” but his thoughts can also be applied to gathering ideas.