In theory, brainstorms are a great way to get input and collectively come up with new and innovative ideas. In reality, the outcome of brainstorms often don’t yield the results you were hoping for. This practical Design Thinking approach to brainstorming can help change that.

You have a problem that needs solving. Knowing that you and your team need to communicate better, you decide to organize a brainstorm instead of digging into your own grey mass for that stroke of brilliance. On Friday afternoon, you get a few team members together, crack open a cold one and explain your problem. Halfway through your last sentence, the first ideas come flying at you. Thirty minutes later, when the well has dried up, you have a warm drink in your hand, but no silver bullet idea. What happened?

When brainstorming, group dynamics can change everything

The problem with asking a question and then asking everyone to come up with ideas, is that there is no level of equality. In every brainstorm, there’s always someone who makes sure their strong opinions are heard above the crowd (if you don’t know who that is in your team, it’s probably you). On the other end of the spectrum, quieter members of your team may have some great ideas, but don’t feel comfortable raising their voices. There are people who blurt out ten ideas in ten seconds, and there are people who need ten minutes of quiet thinking to come up with a single one. Group dynamics can mess up your great intentions.

How to run a successful brainstorm

A solution to this problem, based in Design Thinking, is simple, effective and easy to implement. The next time you need a lot of ideas for a campaign, events, influencer trips or another creative endeavour, here’s how to make brainstorming efficient and effective:

  1. Get your team together. The more the merrier.
  2. Make sure that there’s one timekeeper/facilitator (probably you).
  3. If there’s more than six people, divide the group into smaller groups.
  4. Get rid of all the chairs. You can sit when you’re done.
  5. Give every group a stack of Post-its and an empty piece of wall.
  6. Explain the rules:
    • Each group has 10 minutes to write down as many ideas as possible on the Post-its. Stick them on the wall. Yes, this means working fast.
    • There is NO DISCUSSION.
    • The group with the most ideas wins a prize, in order to stimulate getting as many ideas as possible.
  1. It’s GO TIME!
  2. Ask everyone in the group to take six minutes or so to come up with 10 ideas of their own, first.
  3. Let them use the remaining minutes to share with the group and come up with some more.
  4. Call out the time, and put on the pressure (“Two minutes left! We’re nearing the finish line!”)
  5. Step back and let the groups do a Post-it count.
  6. The winners high-five and poke fun at the losers.
  7. Show everyone how many ideas you’ve created as a group – you’ll be amazed of the number. So what the heck, high-five the losers, too.

In a previous post, we referred to the double diamond as a way to visualize the key principles of Design Thinking. In this quick brainstorm, you’ve gone through the left half of the first diamond, which focuses on divergent thinking, or discovery. As a next step, you can group and define the ideas through a similar process (which we’ll discuss in a future article).

Why this brainstorming technique works

There are two major elements that contribute to the success of this method. Firstly, by allowing no discussion and giving people some time to think for themselves. All personality types get a chance to bring their ideas into the group.

Secondly, and this is an absolutely underestimated factor, is time. As soon as you have the time to second-guess your idea, or think of the pros and cons, the number of ideas is reduced by at least 50%. By putting the pressure on, and allowing for only ten minutes of brainstorming time, there’s really no time to think about your ideas. In a stage where the objective is to get as many ideas as possible (remember, you’ll select the right ideas in a different session), this is a very good thing.

Wrapping it up

Brainstorms are a great way to collect many great ideas. Instead of having a half-hour “who can shout the loudest” session, do it differently. Take out the group dynamic and focus on the objective – as many ideas as possible – by adding a time crunch, and your brainstorms will yield much better results.

Featured image credit: Tony Webster, Flickr


  1. Regina Cox

    Excellent suggestions and very practical. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Everett Alatsis

    I agree and run sessions with a similar approach (no discussion while brainstorming). I also encourage bringing laptops if name-storming so folks can use or other sources.


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