The New Rules of Brainstorming

The New Rules of
Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Brainstorming. (2013).
Leigh Thompson. Harvard Business School Press.
New Rules
• Developed based on research and years of
• Alex Osborn in Applied Imagination in
1953 invented word and basic concept of
• He got most of it right.
Osborn’s Rules
Express ideas openly
No evaluation/criticism
Focus on quantity
Don’t hold back, get crazy, childish
As many ideas as possible
Build on ideas of others (synergy)
Combine ideas
Myths Developed
• Groups are more creative than individuals.
– People are pro-social and team oriented.
• Get rid of rules, relax, no tension.
• Brainstorm as a group first to get creative
juices flowing.
Research Busted Myths
• Individuals more creative than groups.
• Groups need guidelines, structure, and
some pressure.
• Brainstorm individually first, then in
– Individuals (and groups) need priming.
• Stimulation of visuals, toys, phrases, props – expand
• Brainstorm individually, then exchange
ideas – a crucial part of creativity.
• Two key elements in creativity
– Attention/focus
• Develop then exchange a lot of individual ideas
before group meets, because a group often fixates on
a few ideas and gets groups stuck, slows them down.
– Incubation
• By developing a lot of ideas individually, exchanging
them, then waiting to meet in a group allows for the
necessary incubation.
• Myth
– People should work close together in order to
generate ideas.
• No – privacy is important for initial idea
generation (can focus better).
– Idea generation works best in solitude … and
with lots of priming.
• Cave-and-commons workspace is best.
• Groups can be pro-social, but…
– Difficult to be unique or independent in a
– Tendency to go along to get along.
• Need some tension, pressure to keep
focused, and to be unique, independent.
• Ideal group size is five.
– Large groups get confusing, too much
duplication, too much free riding.
• Experienced facilitator must keep
discussion focused, open, spirited.
– Passionately attack the problem, but respect
the people.
• Fair, spirited fighting.
– Don’t allow storytelling, explanations, or
• Use blackboard, whiteboards, flip charts to
write everything down (memorialize
– Take photos on iPad or phone.
– Put in a boneyard or repository (Google Doc,
wiki, blog) so group members can actively
access ideas during, before, and after
• Mood: Consistently positive and upbeat
– Facilitator’s responsibility.
• Diversity is critical.
– Don’t put friends together.
• If possible, regularly involve the input of
of outsiders who are devil’s advocates.
• Conflict is OK – manage it.
Group Problems
• Going along with the crowd
• Riding the bus without paying the fee
(free riding)
• Team superiority complex
– 90% believe they are in the top quartile.
• The tyranny of the average
– Regress toward the mean – satisficing
• Dumbing down (playing it safe to be
• Evaluation apprehension
Group Problems
• Cognitive interruptus (multitasking)
– Fewer than 95% of people can multitask
effectively (and 90% of people think they are
in the 5%)
– Takes a person seven minutes on average to
recover from an interruption
• Focus, focus, focus on generating a lot of ideas.
• Being in a group requires a symphony of
skills: Listening, speaking, taking turns,
taking notes, and summarizing.
Group Problems
• Production blocking (time wasted while
group members queue up and wait to take
turns expressing their ideas)
• Competing for attention
• Simultaneous talking
Making Groups Effective
(And Avoiding Free Riders)
• Don’t make team too big.
• Assign roles.
• Strengthen team cohesion.
Team T-shirts
Focus on shared goals
Use same lingo
Talk “we.”
• Increase diversity – not too much
Making Groups Effective
• Craft a team charter.
– A document written by all team members
specifying the team mission and expectations
they hold for one another.
• People are less likely to renege on an agreement they
agreed to in writing.
Making Groups Effective
• Cyberstorming
– Google Docs, etc.
– No fighting for attention, no production
• Brainwriting
– Simultaneously and independently writing
down ideas. No eye contact. Silence. Focus
attention on idea generation.
Making Groups Effective
• Raise expectations.
– Brainstorm for ten minutes, rest, then double
the number of ideas expected.
• Separate people from the problem.
Attack the problem, not people.
Disagreement and conflict are OK.
Don’t get defensive.
Don’t be indirect – be direct but respectful.
• People like directness.
• When stuck, summarize.
Making Groups Effective
• Neutralize alpha-dominant people.
– Aren’t aware they are dominating the
discussion, upsetting others, and making
others loath to participate (doom loop) and
give up.
– In group of six, three people do 70% of the
talking. In a group of eight, three people do
70% of the talking, etc.
– Use forced democracy:
• Brainwriting
– Simultaneous written generation of ideas.
• No guessing
• No confessions
• All ideas anonymous
No longer than ten minutes in group sessions
Secret ballot (put stickers on favorite ideas)
Flag four-six most popular
Groups who use brainwriting are much more
effective, especially when ideas are discussed
(attention) and people reflect on them
• Cyberstorming
– Electronic brainstorming
– Elegantly solve problems of production
– Because ideas are displayed for everyone, they
can stimulate other ideas (synergy)
– No one can talk too much, criticize ideas, or
– Difficult because people have to both generate
and monitor ideas, but still more effective than
old-fashioned brainstorming.
Rules For Brainstorming
Express ideas openly.
No evaluation/criticism
As many ideas as possible
Build on ideas of others (synergy).
Generation first, then judging
Focus on quantity.
Don’t hold back, get crazy, childish
Combine ideas
Keep groups small (five is ideal).
Keep sessions about 30-40 minutes long.
Individual brainstorming first (brainwriting), then in
Have clear, accepted goals and expectations
Old Rules
• Groups benefit most from building and
combining ideas (not generating lots of
novel ideas).
• Groups are better at evaluating and
judging ideas, not generating novel ones.
• Osborn’s old rules are effective because
they are rules and provide structure.
• Quantity rule is most important.
Set a clear goal.
Keep group focused on the task.
Restrict people from telling stories or
explaining ideas.
Wasting time.
When no one is suggesting an idea,
restate the problem and encourage ideas.
Encourage those people who are not
talking to make a contribution.
• Focus on process and resist inserting
substantive ideas.
• Be a good umpire – enforce rules.
• Focus on volume and novelty.
• Break problems down into small chunks.
• Help people get in touch with their child
(open, energetic).

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