Brainstorming is a widely used framework in the design thinking process that encourages creative thinking and generates many ideas. It is a collaborative and iterative approach that involves stakeholders working together to solve a problem or develop innovative solutions.
The One-hour Brain Sprint

Brainstorming is a crucial component of the design thinking process, a human-centered approach to innovation and problem-solving. In design thinking, brainstorming is a structured framework to generate many creative ideas in a collaborative setting. During brainstorming sessions, teams approach problems by asking “How Might We” questions, producing a wide range of ideas and connecting them to identify potential solutions.

Define the problem: Define the problem or challenge you are trying to address. This will provide a focus for the brainstorming session and ensure that participants have a shared understanding of the objective.

Assemble a diverse group: Gather diverse individuals with different perspectives, backgrounds, and expertise. This diversity helps generate a wider range of ideas and promotes creative thinking.

Create a supportive environment: Establish a safe environment where participants feel comfortable sharing their ideas freely. Encourage an open mindset and emphasize that all ideas are welcome.

Set clear guidelines: Explain the purpose of the brainstorming session and set clear guidelines for participation. Encourage participants to suspend judgment, build upon each other’s ideas, and avoid criticism or evaluation during the initial idea generation phase.

Generate ideas: Begin the idea generation phase by encouraging participants to generate as many ideas as possible. They need to think freely and explore unconventional or wild ideas. Quantity is valued over quality at this stage.

Build upon ideas: Once a pool of ideas has been generated, participants can start building upon and expanding each other’s ideas. Combine, refine, or modify ideas to create new possibilities. This collaborative process often sparks further creativity and leads to more innovative solutions.

Encourage visual representation: Encourage participants to express their ideas visually through sketches, diagrams, or other visual representations. Visualizing ideas helps to deepen understanding, uncover new insights, and facilitate communication among team members.

Facilitate discussion: Throughout the brainstorming session, facilitate open and constructive conversations. Allow participants to ask questions, seek clarification, and provide feedback on ideas. This helps to refine and shape the ideas further.

Capture and document ideas: Have someone record all the ideas generated during the session through note-taking or a visual tool like a whiteboard or sticky notes. Make sure every idea is captured without judgment or bias.

Evaluate and prioritize: After the brainstorming session, shift the focus from quantity to quality. Evaluate and prioritize the generated ideas based on feasibility, desirability, and alignment with the problem statement. This evaluation helps to identify the most promising ideas for further development.

Iterate and refine: Design thinking is an iterative process, so revisit and iterate on the ideas. Combine ideas, refine them, seek feedback, and continue to develop and improve upon the selected concepts.

If you’re wondering how to set up a brainstorming session, consider the meeting in three phases. Plan to get the most out of everyone’s time.

Phase 1 — Setup

  • Frame a question grounded in an insight to guide the group’s thinking.
  • Share inspiration and insights from competitive and analogous research.
  • Embrace a mindset of curiosity, using the rules of brainstorming as a guide.

Phase 2 — Facilitation

  • Loosen people up with a creative warm-up
  • Start with heads-down individual brainstorming.
  • Share ideas as a group and build on each other’s concepts.

Phase 3 — Follow up

  • Group ideas into buckets or themes.
  • Vote on your favorite ideas.
  • Define the next steps and action items.

Brainstorming involves harnessing synergy – we leverage our collective thinking toward various potential solutions. However, it’s challenging to have boundless freedom. In groups, introverts may stay quiet while extroverts dominate. Whoever’s leading the session must “police” the team to ensure a healthy, solution-focused atmosphere where even the shiest participants will speak up. A warm-up activity can cure brainstorming “constipation” – e.g., ask participants to list ways the world would be different if metal were like rubber.

Brainstorming is an ideation technique for exploring possible solutions to a given problem. While brainstorming, you’re in divergent thinking mode, a generative, open, and creative mindset that can help you get to innovative solutions. Of course, the more diverse the experiences and perspectives of the people around the table, the richer the results of your brainstorming efforts.

Through practice, brainstorming is a muscle that you can build over time.