Brainstorming By the Rules

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Written by:

brainbolt.pngAlex Osborn, founder of a super-successful New York ad Agency and of the Creative Education Foundation, came up with a list of brainstorming “rules” in 1963:

No judgment in early stages: Collect as many ideas as possible without imposing criticism.

Encourage wild or stupid ideas: Don’t refuse to write anything on the board. You never know where it might lead.

Forbid discussion: This may seem counter-intuitive to old-school thinkers. What’s a meeting without talk, after all? But at the start of brainstorming, analysis is death. Wait until you have your long list of ideas, first.

Ban cynics: Early criticism of ideas guarantees you fewer good ideas overall. Anyone who can’t accommodate randomness of thought shouldn’t be there.

Make the process visible: Be sure to record the ideas as the come on a flipchart or board. They must be seen by the group to be useful.

Impose time limits: The pressure of the clock helps ideas to flow more quickly, spontaneously. 30 minutes is good.

These rules aren’t easy to keep. But they worked for Osborn and
thousands of others, from copywriters to politicians to engineers. Systems
work if you give ‘em a chance.

Last modified: July 13, 2017

3 Responses to " Brainstorming By the Rules "

  1. Love the list, John.

    They seem to be written for brainstorming in groups. Anytime I brainstorm with another person it’s over the phone, and I’m at my worst. For me brainstorming means thinking alone… maybe because I’m worried about what others will think… but nonetheless, I come up with my best ideas late at night with no one around.

    I can apply those rules to myself, though. And they’d work great.

    Cheers,
    Stephen

  2. jackforde says:

    @Copywriting Dean: I can hear what you’re saying, Dean. Though, two quick thoughts: First, you have to learn how to accept that self-conciousness about throwing ideas out there… and then get past it. Nothing is a greater hinderance to creative success, except maybe lack of reading and other input about the thing you’ll write copy about.

    Early on, I found that my passion for ideas fast overwhelmed any reluctance to share them. These days, I worry about the opposite effect — that I’m so interested in rolling out possible approaches, others will see me as a zealot. Seriously, if you ask me for one or two ideas, I’ll give you six or seven… even if it’s clear you don’t want them.

    But of the two problems, I prefer the latter.

    As for the phone conversations, I find them a little hard to use for brainstorming too… though my own situation, living thousands of miles away from my primary clients, makes phone, skype, and instant-message brainstorming a necessity sometimes. But whenever I can, I try to get face to face with the people who care as much about the product I’m working with as I do. Why? Because, and this is the real reason you have to avoid 100% solo creativity, I’m often astounded to find they’ve not only thought as much or more about the same problems I’m trying to solve… they’ve thought of angles I’ve yet to uncover. Sometimes without realizing it themselves.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with the “insiders” on a project and walked away not only with a new and great idea, but an idea they give me credit for… only because I happened to come along and draw it out of them at the right time.

  3. Amy says:

    Love the list, John.

    They seem to be written for brainstorming in groups. Anytime I brainstorm with another person it’s over the phone, and I’m at my worst. For me brainstorming means thinking alone… maybe because I’m worried about what others will think… but nonetheless, I come up with my best ideas late at night with no one around.

    I can apply those rules to myself, though. And they’d work great.

    Cheers,
    Stephen

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