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Brainstorming is an idea generation method developed by Alex F. Osborn in 1939 and modified by Charles Hutchison Clark , which is designed to encourage the generation of new, unusual ideas in a group of people. He named it after the idea behind this method, namely using the brain to storm a problem (literally: " using the brain to storm a problem "). Hilbert Meyer uses the term “lettuce” as a translation offer in teaching methods , the VDS suggests “thinking round” and “collecting ideas”.

Technology and area of ​​application

The name brainstorming spread quickly, but it is now used for techniques other than that described by Osborn.

This method is preferably used in the entire field of advertising. However, it is also used with more or less success for all problems, for example in product development or when designing new technical devices. The results of a brainstorming can be used in further work steps, but the (inconclusive) brainstorming alone can be used as a creative relaxation exercise. The original procedure involves two steps:


A group is put together from any number of people. Depending on the problem, it can consist of experts / employees, laypeople or experts from other specialist areas. The group leader prepares illustrative material and introduces the group to the problem, which is then analyzed and specified. The question or task should neither be too broad and general (“How can we save the world?”), Nor too detailed or specific (“Which adhesive method to attach component A to B?”). The group members are informed in advance of the brainstorming process, whether it is a moderated or non-moderated brainstorming session. A recorder can be appointed. Four basic rules apply to brainstorming:

  1. Combining and taking up ideas that have already been expressed is desirable.
  2. Comments, corrections and criticism are prohibited.
  3. Many ideas in a very short time (time frame approx. 5–30 min)
  4. Free association and fantasizing is allowed.

Phase one: find ideas

Now the participants spontaneously come up with ideas for finding a solution. In the best case scenario, they will inspire each other and allow points of view to flow into new approaches and ideas. The ideas are recorded. All participants should produce ideas without any restrictions and combine them with other ideas. The phase should also be within a time frame of around 30 to 45 minutes. The group should be put in the most productive and inventive mood. The following basic rules apply in this phase:

  • No criticism of other contributions, ideas, proposed solutions (creative approaches can also develop from suggestions that are completely nonsensical at first).
  • No evaluation or judgment of the ideas.
  • Everyone should be able to express their thoughts freely.
  • No irrelevant arguments .
  • The bolder and more imaginative, the better. This enlarges the solution field.

Phase two: sort and evaluate results

After a break, all ideas are read out (by the group leader) and evaluated and sorted by the participants. Initially, it is only about mere thematic affiliation and the sorting out of ideas that are not problematic. The assessment and evaluation can be carried out in the same discussion by the same participants or carried out separately by other experts.

Aspects of group dynamics in brainstorming

According to a study from 2002 by Henk Wilke and Arjaan Wit, group dynamics play a major role in brainstorming. As the best-known and widespread creativity technique , it makes sense for an effective and efficient use of brainstorming to be familiar with group dynamic processes and problem areas and to counteract them if necessary. It is about the effects of the group structure, but also about potential process and motivation losses that can influence the results of the brainstorming. Aspects of the group structure, the differentiation of roles, the differentiation of status and the communication pattern must be taken into account, otherwise process losses and loss of motivation can arise.

Weaknesses - Variants - Criticism

Studies claim that just expressing an idea influences the brainstorming of the other participants. Therefore, it makes sense to let all participants write down their ideas before the actual brainstorming so that they can report on them afterwards without being influenced.

According to a report in “Bild der Wissenschaft” 1/2005, the traditional brainstorming method is demonstrably of no use: 50 studies showed a devastating result, the candidates couldn't do better in groups because they blocked each other. Most of the time they had to wait until someone else had talked about what was inhibiting their creativity. This phenomenon is called production stall. Lone fighters, on the other hand, had not only more, but also better inspirations than the group. Creativity would therefore depend more on the level of awareness of the individual.

The situation is different with electronic brainstorming, which is carried out online with the help of electronic meeting systems . These systems enforce essential basic rules of brainstorming on a technical level and lever out harmful influences of group work by anonymizing and parallelizing the inputs. The positive effects of electronic brainstorming increase with the size of the group.

In order to include less expressive but equally qualified employees, brainwriting or the collective notebook method can also be used. Here too, every variation in the environment and the way it is carried out provides new impulses. In brainstorming sessions, it is also helpful to include so-called “outsiders” in the brainstorming session. Members within an organization usually block the generation of ideas because they think too much in certain structures and are trapped in them. People from outside can accelerate the thought processes and influence them positively.

On the other hand, skilled creative people are able to stimulate and inspire one another within a brainstorming session. The usefulness of the ideas depends essentially on the familiarity of the participants with the problem area; diverse interests and broad general education are also advantageous.

Brainstorming and related methods are sometimes only used to involve as many people as possible in solving the problem, i.e. for (operational) political reasons. In such cases, effectiveness does not play a major role. If brainstorming is used in a strictly result-oriented manner and only carried out by people who are suitable for this method, it can very quickly lead to good partial results, which in turn stimulate further work steps.

A social psychologist from the University of Utrecht carried out an experiment on brainstorming in which 20 people thinking alone had up to 50% more and more original ideas than “teams” doing traditional brainstorming.

Advantages and disadvantages


  • Makes it possible to find innovative ideas and unusual problem solutions
  • Use when normal techniques do not offer any further solutions (dead end)
  • Easy to handle
  • Low cost
  • Exploitation of synergy effects as a result of group formation


  • Very dependent on the participants
  • Risk of wandering
  • Elaborate selection of suitable ideas
  • Risk of group dynamic conflicts


  • For problem types of simple complexity
  • Well suited for problem solving on a purely linguistic level (name and slogan finding)
  • Suitable for formulating goals and statements with a symbolic character
  • Useful as an introduction to a topic in order to define the field of solution approaches


  • Electronic brainstorming : anonymization and parallelization of ideas; overcomes social barriers in the group; Advantages grow with the size of the group
  • Brainwriting (in various forms): Written collection of ideas; better suited for quieter participants or groups where tension is to be expected
  • Brainwalking : collection of ideas in motion and on posters with different questions distributed around the room; more suitable for larger groups and experienced participants
  • Collective notebook: Notes are made and passed on
  • ABC brainstorming : Can be used when "normal" brainstorming stops or when the group first wants to work out the conceptual context of a problem. The method is suitable for questions that can provide many terms. There are two variants:
    1. The letters A to Z are written one below the other on a board. Participants in turn are asked to search for a term for each letter. The moderator notes the term behind the respective letter.
    2. A term is searched for for each letter in ascending order and noted on the board. The terms are sorted / grouped in front of the board by an experienced moderator.
Then the terms in the group are sorted, summarized, questioned, deleted or refined.
Problem: Mention of important terms is prevented if the corresponding letter is already "occupied" by another term.


  • M. Nückles, J. Gurlitt, T. Pabst, A. Renkl: Mind Maps and Concept Maps. Visualize - organize - communicate. Beck-Wirtschaftsberater im dtv, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-423-50877-9 .
  • Charles Hutchison Clark: Brainstorming: How to Create Successful Ideas. Wilshire Book Company, 1989, ISBN 0-87980-423-8 .
  • AF Osborn: Applied Imagination. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York 1957.
  • A. Bosse: The collective genius: The innovation performance of role-based groups. Tectum, Marburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-8288-9332-0 .
  • Paul B. Paulus, Bernard A. Nijstad (Eds.): Group Creativity: Innovation Through Collaboration. Oxford University Press, London, ISBN 0-19-514730-8 .
  • H. Rätzsch: brainstorming. Vogel, Würzburg 1999, ISBN 3-8023-1786-6 .
  • H. Wilke, A. Wit: group performance. In: K. Jonas, M. Hewstone (Ed.): Social psychology. An introduction. Springer, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-540-42063-0 , pp. 497-535.
  • Werner Gilde, Claus-Dieter Starke: You have to have ideas to be able to do it. Urania-Verlag, Leipzig / Jena / Berlin 1969.

Web links

Commons : Brainstorming  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Hilbert Meyer: teaching methods. Volume II, 1st edition. Frankfurt 1987.
  2. Potential group performance: “The performance that a group can provide if it uses the resources available to it - such as relevant knowledge, skills, skills, tools, time and money - optimally (ie without process losses) to meet the requirements of the To do justice to the task. "(H. Wilke, A. Wit: Group performance. 2002, p. 498)
  3. ^ H. Wilke, A. Wit: group performance. 2002, p. 526 ff.
  4. Diffuse status characteristics: “Information about the abilities of a person that are only indirectly relevant for the task, but that result overall from belonging to certain categories (age, ethnic group, gender) that have nothing to do with the task-related group , derive. "(H. Wilke, A. Wit: Group performance. 2002, p. 527)
  5. ^ H. Wilke, A. Wit: group performance. 2002, p. 529 ff.
  6. ^ H. Wilke, A. Wit: group performance. 2002, p. 522 ff.
  7. J. Nunamaker, AR Dennis, JS Valacich, DR bird, JF George: Electronic Meeting Systems to Support Work Group. In: Communications of the ACM. Vol. 34, No. 7, 1991, pp. 40-61.
  8. AR Dennis, JS Valacich: Computer Brain Storms: More Heads are Better than One. In: Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol. 78, No. 4, 1993, pp. 531-537.
  9. Sven F. Goergens: "Brainstorming" - To err is quantitative ... In: Focus . Edition 05/2009, January 26, p. 90.