Brainstorming on Brainstorming


By Maia Garau 

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The concept of brainstorming, now mainstream in many organizations, originated in the 1940s and has gained momentum over the years as part of the broader trend toward collaborative work and open-plan offices. In his book, “How to ‘Think up’” (1942), advertising executive Alex Osborn proposed a then-revolutionary approach for generating creative ideas in groups. A key idea was that “it is easier to tone down a wild idea than to think up a new one.” His core principles included:

  1. Deferring judgment (we are not wired to think creatively and critically at the same time).
  2. Encourage wild ideas.
  3. Focus on quantity, not quality.
  4. Build on the ideas of others.

Brainstorming has recently come under attack for yielding mediocre creative results. Detractors argue that it’s a poor method for generating big, innovative ideas. Some admit it has its uses, from generating smaller, incremental ideas to giving groups a sense of feel-good innovation to (more sneakily) getting political buy-in for pre-existing ideas. However it is generally argued that it falls short for two reasons: first, because individual creativity trumps group creativity. Second, because social dynamics often lead people to conform and generally lean toward the safer middle ground.


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About the Author

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Maia Garau is a Senior Consultant with XPLANE and part of a core team heading up the company’s Amsterdam office. She facilitates workshops and discovery sessions for clients including Elsevier, Hewlett Packard, Sony Ericsson, Swisscom, Nokia, LEGO, American Express and InterContinental Hotels Group.  These sessions blend visual thinking, sense-making and storytelling to diagnose problems, align teams, co-create solutions and drive behavior change.

Maia has taught Service Design and Experience Design at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Umeå Institute of Design (UID) and Copenhagen Institute for Interaction Design (CIID). She has a BA in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MSc in Virtual Environments from the Bartlett School of Architecture, and a PhD in Computer Science from University College London.