Since I first wrote this article, AI has become an everyday reality and we are beginning to outsource a lot of ideation to nonhuman entities. So what is the place, if any, for the good old tool of brainstorming, introduced by Alex Osborne in 1953 and beloved by teachers, leaders, organizational consultants and meeting facilitators since then? Creative thinking remains in the province of the human mind – at least for now. So it seems worthwhile to examine this tool – which for some is the only tool related to creative thinking that they use – to see what, if any, value it can still provide.
Does brainstorming produce creative ideas? Not likely. Is it an important part of the ideation process? Well, yes, in my experience.
First, let’s consider how brainstorming is most frequently used. The process that is called “brainstorming” in many organizations is simply a session in which people are encouraged to toss out ideas. Often, they follow the ground rule of not judging the ideas immediately, but seldom use Osborne’s structured method that encourages everyone to contribute an idea or pass in each round and to let the ideas run down several times before ending the process. In fact, too often the most senior or loudest voice results in ideas that are not properly critiqued or vetted before moving them forward. At times, leaders and managers end the ideation session once they hear an idea that has at least some merit or agrees with a preconceived or politically correct solution. This means that there are few or no other ideas to compete for selection as the most interesting, creative, or practical way forward.