Alex Osborn, a 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 talking, after all? But at the start of brainstorming, over-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 they come on a flip chart 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. They might work for you too.
Last modified: April 20, 2020