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The Simple Steps of Classic Brainstorming

By Michael S. Slocum

Brainstorming is an ideation technique that is suitable for divergent idea generation. It has been used extensively by organizations to create solutions to those problems that required specifics in a non-critical environment. It is typically necessary that the information required be known although the specific idea may not yet be formulated. The technique is rather basic and involves a few simple steps. The brainstorming process engages all members of the team equally and presents a non-hostile environment for the generation and collection of ideas. It also allows for the verbal interaction between the team members and their ideas thus creating the opportunity for the generation of hybrid concepts. The main steps for the brainstorming process are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Classic Brainstorming Process
Step Action
1 Form team consisting of subject matter experts as well as non subject matter experts
2 Define the problem the team will brainstorm solutions for (create a concise problem statement)
3 Ensure the team understands the problem (baseline problem understanding)
4 Explain the classic brainstorming rules (see Table 2)
5 Initiate brainstorming
6 Record each idea
7 Brainstorming duration is determined according to the number of ideation pauses (see Table 3)
8 Affinitize the ideas
9 Create an idea matrix and utilize Pugh concept selection technique or voting to prioritize ideas for further analysis

The brainstorming rules help direct the process to develop the desired output. The desired output is a divergent set of ideas concerning the relevant problem statement. This is supported by the process guidelines shown in Table 2.

Table 2: The Rules of the Classic Brainstorming Process
1 All ideas are recorded
2 No criticism –all ideas are valid
3 Quantity is important, not quality
4 Be imaginative
5 Build off each other’s ideas
6 Get to the point
7 Determine how many pauses to incorporate in the process

The process steps and the rules, when followed, will help the team create a divergent set of ideas relevant to the problem under discussion. This technique may be used in conjunction with many other techniques as well (e.g., Brainwriting 6-3-5, TILMAG, TRIZ and HRP).

Table 3: The Flow of Idea Generation (Pauses in the Brainstorming Process)

Initial phase: many easy ideas

» Firstpause «

Second phase: ideas are built upon and combined (hybrids)

» Second pause «

Third phase: fewer but deeper ideas

» Third pause «

Fourth phase: ideas are exhausted

Brainstorming is a simple and effective technique for organizing a team and producing a divergent idea set for a specific problem statement. The steps and rules for brainstorming are simple and easy to use. Brainstorming, when used correctly and at the right time, may be a powerful method in the innovation arena.

About the Author:

Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) or visit