Brainstorming: it sucks (says science)

Brainstorming is a rather well known Method for generating ideas. The participants generate as many as possibly ideas without judging the ideas.  Since Osborn introduced it in his work »Applied Imagination« it is in use and its rather popular [1] and part of the design thinking approach [2].

But already a few years after the technique has been introduced, empirical tests casted doubt on the method’s usefulnesses for generating ideas: Neither in terms of quality nor quantity it could could compete with ideas generated by single individuals [3].

This has been attributed by other researchers to several reasons (all from [4]):

  • In a group, just one person can talk, while others have to wait (supported by [5])
  • Fear of evaluation (despite of brainstorming’s credo »defer judgement«) (not supported by [5])
  • Group members don’t actually inspire each other; instead a group is prone to discuss more of the same.

Nevertheless, methods for creating alternative ideas are needed – at least research on prototyping strongly suggests that generating and testing multiple alternatives improves designs [6]. So what are viable alternatives for brainstorming? There are a lot of creativity techniques out there and I sadly can’t tell which is THE BEST. However, I made good experiences with the design studio method. (which is explained by Todd Warfel here). It is a process that uses sketching, individual idea generation and group feedback as its foundations; my experiences so far have been very well. As the process is less known than brainstorming and has admittedly a more complex structure, I made a little web app (At the moment only in German;  availiableon github too; you can compile it into a phonegap app) which hopefully guides a newbie through the process. Have fun being creative!


[1] Idea Generation Techniques among Creative Professionals by Scarlett R. Herring, Brett R. Jones, Brian P. Bailey, hicss, pp.1-10, 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2009
[2] Use our methods,
[3] Taylor, D., Berry, P., Block, C.: Does Group Participation When Using Brainstorming Facilitate or Inhibit Creative Thinking? Adm. Sci. Q. 3, 23–47 (1958).

[4] Lamm, H., Trommsdorff, G.: Group versus individual performance on tasks requiring ideational proficiency (brainstorming): A review. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 3, 361–388 (1973).
[5] Diehl, M., Stroebe, W.: Productivity loss in brainstorming groups: Toward the solution of a riddle. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 53, 497–509 (1987).
[6] Dow, S.P., Heddleston, K., Klemmer, S.R.: The Efficacy of Prototyping Under Time Constraints. Proceedings of the Seventh ACM Conference on Creativity and Cognition. pp. 165–174. ACM, New York, NY, USA (2009).