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7 Tips on Better Brainstorming

We happen to think idea generation is an art form. It's about setting a safe, creative space for people to feel like they can say anything, be wild, not be judged – so that new ideas can be born.
Traditionally, the group brainstorm is an activity to generate ideas in-person. With OpenIDEO, the community is turning that model on its head by creating a digital space where ideas spark and fly. We're excited to see the Ideas phase turning into this new form of digital brainstorming.
To help you generate better ideas, here's some tips we use in traditional group brainstorming, to set the boundaries of that creative space. The rules for digital brainstorming have yet to be discovered. Based on your experience maybe you can contribute some in the comments!

1. Defer judgment
Creative spaces don't judge. They let the ideas flow, so that people can build on eachother and foster great ideas. You never know where a good idea is going to come from, the key is make everyone feel like they can say the idea on their mind and allow others to build on it. On OpenIDEO, we've made this literally into a Build On This button. Click on it to start your own idea, building on someone elses.
This still means we pose questions and provocations so that the ideas can get to a better place. Take a look at the comments section under each of the Concepts, where we see lots of builds and questions tackling different dimensions of the idea.
2. Encourage wild ideas
Wild ideas can often give rise to creative leaps. In thinking about ideas that are wacky or out there we tend to think about what we really want without the constraints of technology or materials. We can then take those magical possibilities and perhaps invent new technologies to deliver them.
We say embrace the most out-of-the-box notions and build build build...
3. Build on the ideas of others
Being positive and building on the ideas of others take some skill. In conversation, we try to use and instead of but...
On OpenIDEO, you can click the button that says Build on this and then say And... Or leave someone a comment with a new build.
4. Stay focused on the topic
We try to keep the discussion on target, otherwise you can diverge beyond the scope of what we're trying to design for. 

5. One conversation at a time
Of course on OpenIDEO, there's lots of conversations happening at once, which is great! Always think about the challenge topic and how this could apply.

6. Be visual
In live brainstorms we use coloured markers to write on Post-its that are put on a wall. Nothing gets an idea across faster than drawing it. Doesn’t matter how terrible of a sketcher you are! It's all about the idea behind your sketch.
On OpenIDEO, we love seeing photos, sketches, found images for your ideas. You could also try your hand at sketching it out or mocking it up on the computer. We love visual ideas as the images make them memorable.
Does someone elses idea excite you? Maybe make them an image to go with their idea.

7. Go for quantity
Aim for as many new ideas as possible. In a good session, up to 100 ideas are generated in 60 minutes. Crank the ideas out quickly.

Once you've posted an initial idea on OpenIDEO, you can always go back and hit the Update Entry button on your post as you evolve your concept based on all those great conversations you're having.
It's up to you guys to spark and build!
If you've got more tips, especially around how we can improve brainstorming on OpenIDEO, we'd love to hear them in the comments section below.


Join the conversation and post a comment.

chang liu

April 02, 2014, 17:48PM
Nice topic,~!

René de Ruijter

February 25, 2014, 16:32PM
Using a digital space for brainstorming is very interesting. A digital board or map like Stephen describes would be incredibly valuable. If the digital brainstorm is anonymous (sharing all ideas with the group without revealing the ‘origin’ of each idea) it can prevent reluctance to share wild, crazy or potentially unpopular thoughts. Another big advantage can be that it speeds the brainstorm up. Everybody can jot down their ideas at the same time, without fearing to interrupt someone, and without being held back by a note taker that can’t keep up with the speed in which the participants share their ideas.

Jeremy Lu

March 23, 2014, 10:41AM
@Rene, you should definitely check out GroupMap. Each person gets their own board/map to add their ideas to which can then be shared around the group anonymously. This means people can be open and honest about what their ideas are and others can then add or remove it from their own response based on the merit of their idea. Finally, they can then prioritise, comment and vote for action. And you are spot on, having everyone type removes the production block of a single scribe which helps to speed up the ideation process too. Free flowing ideas for all!! Enjoy.

Bill Youngdahl

April 13, 2014, 06:36AM
@René, we’ve spent the last year creating a cloud-based sticky note app, Teamput, that feels like the real thing (free version at Teamput truly mirrors face-to-face sticky-note brainstorming with private (or small-group) and broader-group canvases.

Jeremy Lu

July 15, 2013, 11:40AM
@James, thanks for trying out GroupMap as a way of brainstorming. We think all collaborative approaches are great. We think there is room for all sorts of ways for people to get ideas shared.

Ours helps people to focus on the task, keeping it honest, collaborative and anonymous to really allows those sweet ideas to flow out. We like to combine both tech and non-tech approaches to teamwork. We've just launched a new range of conversation map types to help collaborative work groups, so feel free to check them out.

Ayman Fakhreddine

April 08, 2013, 15:13PM
Fantastic article :)


April 03, 2013, 06:30AM
Honestly I really dislike using post it notes and large pieces of paper for brainstorming especially when there are larger groups. Can you imagine how much paper is wasted?

Last year, I came across an online brainstorming software that we used on an iPad for a large group brainstorming session for my department which has plenty of people in it. The app is called Group Map ( and it encourages ideas that are not biased due to popularity or just people who are real talkers and ideas are weighted. It also helps to stay focused on the topics/questions.

Mark Garrison

March 25, 2013, 19:01PM
All kinds of awesome.

Javier Tamayo

March 25, 2013, 03:55AM
Fantastic tips!,,

Gert Kruitbosch

March 24, 2013, 17:30PM
What I learned as usefull is think out of different roles. Be a student of histry, how do you adress the problem? Be a customer, how do you adress the problem? change roles at least 7 times

Meena Kadri

April 24, 2013, 21:24PM
Fab tip Gert – looking forward to trying this out!

Eddie Mendès

July 04, 2012, 19:57PM
I work in events management as creative consultant we elaborate some brainstorming. We use to design the schemes but always give the ideas three pillars : needs , purposes and values. We try to make ideas consistent and advocate their existence.

Nicola De Franceschi

March 29, 2011, 10:58AM
Since I saw OpenIDEO start I thought it was an exceptional idea. The one thing I really miss is the ability to get in touch in a more physical way with the other participants. Being able to see and talk to them would help a lot the engagement and commitment to the project. I know it would not help brainstorming in 10ths of people alltogether but what about a system that enables to plan online meetings, or picking randomly 5 people and assigning them to a group or saying: "we'll have online brainstorming at 9 - 11 - 13 ... choose a time and start brainstorming with others" if there are more than 5 people at a given time the system could automatically create new groups ... I'm just brainstorming but I think you get point.

Sidi Soueina

May 29, 2011, 18:23PM
let us brainstorm to create a touchable hologram so we can all participate in a more interactive way? shall we? :)

Garry Samett

March 25, 2014, 15:25PM
Yes, synchronous brainstorming would be valuable. There's enough free services to make this easy. Just the scheduling that is tricky across time zones. Also unless you had time bracketed sessions around a single challenge it might be tricky to get the numbers of people required for synchronous discussions e.g. a challenge that will be brainstormed over 24 hours. Nic your idea of scheduled starts is nice.

Stephen Diebold

March 28, 2011, 18:35PM
Wish I could see all the ideas in a big map or board like the post its on the wall. Sometimes having a list seems inappropriate for getting all the ideas out. Theres a barrier when a good idea is buried on page 20 of a list. There has to be a digital translation to that big board of post it ideas.

Joel Faunt

June 22, 2011, 16:34PM
how about a wireless Augment Reality system, based on a web accessable open document?

CJ Adams

December 09, 2011, 12:03PM
Great point Stephen. Particularly when moving from the inspiration to the concepting phase, it would be awesome to have an open visual format to view past submissions. Something like the cooliris' "infinite wall" format could work well: Being able to project that interface onto white boards around the world with real time updates could bring the ideas into physical brainstorming spaces like Joel suggested. Full screen open ideo inspiration review, how cool would that be!

Haiyan Zhang

February 25, 2011, 16:40PM
Check out our brainstorming toolkit, "Brainstorm in a Box" for the Maternal Health challenge:

Haiyan Zhang

February 25, 2011, 11:20AM
Thanks Jason for the response you posted on your blog. Would love to try out your brainstorming platform sometime!

Jason Lally

February 24, 2011, 18:44PM
I agree with Vincent and love this piece. At PlaceMatters, we use brainstorming a lot in our work with communities across the country and have been building an application to enable real-time brainstorming captured through a web interface called Brainstorm Anywhere ( We started from the opposite end that OpenIDEO starts from as much of our work requires some form of place-based meeting.

I have always promoted the approach of using real time, place-based meetings as the start of something online. This provides an opportunity to build trust and relationships that can help frame a good public process. One approach we've used is getting people together to go out and take pictures and upload them to Flickr. We bring them back to do a brainstorming session using the photos as fodder for discussion. We keep the photo library open so people can continue to add to the online discussion after the workshop. We call these "Walkshops." This has met great success, but I don't think we've nailed the online component like OpenIDEO has.

I applaud this effort and hopefully there is a good opportunity for us to mash up an approach that bridges the physical and virtual in increasingly meaningful way. Would love to talk to you more about this in the future.

Vincent Cheng

February 24, 2011, 16:50PM
Having facilitated and participated in various idea generation sessions, just wanted to give some kudos to OpenIDEO’s current approach.

It’s true that during a traditional in-person brainstorm, you can generate many ideas very quickly, building off the energy of a small group in one room focused on an exciting challenge.
However, OpenIDEO’s extended, asynchronous, and multi-threaded format also creates distinct benefits, providing the space and time to draw perspectives from a larger and more diverse group of people (including those that are more reserved), nurture broader and deeper reflection & discussion, and allow ideas to simmer & gestate.

Of course, it’d be nice to harness the power of in-person brainstorming as well. From my own experience, I’ve found that you can recreate some of this online by 1) using a real-time format, and 2) providing thoughtful facilitation. For example, just by using Skype (voice, text chat, image/file sharing), giving pre-assignments, and keeping the energy flowing by rotating between stimuli presentation, independent idea generation, and group sharing/building for various question/area sprints, I was able to help a multi-country team that had never met in person quickly generate 100+ branding ideas.

Perhaps this type of real-time online format could be an add-on experiment for supplementing a specific challenge area/phase, while retaining the core OpenIDEO platform and its associated benefits?

One other little niggle: Completely agree that deferring judgment, and instead optimistically building on each others’ wild ideas is critical to fun and creative productivity for the inspiration and concepting phases, expanding our vision of what’s possible. However, there is value in constructively sharing and nicely discussing “judgmental/evaluative” thoughts on desirability, viability, feasibility, etc. during the evaluation phase, and for moving towards real-world realization of promising ideas.

Sidi Soueina

May 29, 2011, 18:35PM
on your last paragraph on deferring judgments is very important for if we were to allow early judgment contributor will perhaps avoid exposing "crazy" ideas. It is those crazy ideas that can lead to other crazy but implementable ideas.

Congmin Liang

April 04, 2014, 01:07AM
You mention several great points about this idea, and I think it really useful! Great job! Looking forward to see more ideas of this idea stage.
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