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Last edited 13 Jan 2021
In Chapter 33 of his 1948 book ‘Your Creative Power’, Alex Osborn gave one of the first definitions of brainstorm: “When a group works together, the members should engage in a ‘brainstorm’… using the brain to ‘storm’ a creative problem and doing so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective.”
Similarly, in modern commercial and academic usage, a brainstorm is a meeting of minds designed to generate new ideas. Typically, a group of two or more people will meet for a set time period – which may be anything from 10 minutes upwards – to discuss the matter in question. The hope is that pooling thoughts, ideas, viewpoints and comments may bring increased focus, rigour and generate new perspectives.
There may be a set agenda for the brainstorm but often the meeting will be informal and unstructured. Attendees may contribute at any time they feel they have a valid idea. A flip-pad, post it notes or a whiteboard are often used to allow ideas generated to be jotted down for all to see. The writing task will be allocated to one of the meeting’s attendees.
Meetings of this nature used to require a physical presence at a particular location, a meeting room somewhere. However, the rise of the internet now allows brainstorms to be conducted using systems such as Skype, allowing participation by attendees located in diverse locations.
 Suggested weaknesses of brainstorming
Recent debate has generated some downsides to brainstorming, most notably that it doesn’t generate better ideas, while some have even suggested it doesn’t work at all. Research undertaken at Yale University as far back as 1958 tested undergraduates simultaneously both in brainstorm groups and individually. It was found that the solo students generated more ideas than the group sessions. Other studies since have reached similar conclusions.
It has also been observed that brainstorming tends to favour the first ideas generated which are thought to be generally the least creative. People may express the easy idea first around which other members of the group may anchor – to the detriment of better new ideas. Some commentators advocate that to avoid getting fixated on an idea that has been advanced initially, attendees should generate their own solutions prior to the brainstorming session.
Another suggested weakness with brainstorming is that some individuals may lack the courage of their convictions, preferring to keep their ideas to themselves rather than express them to a group. It has been proposed that such individuals may be more creative outside the brainstorm environment where they are not dominated by louder colleagues.
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