Brainstorming illustration

Lead paragraph

Brainstorming is a group problem-solving and creativity technique, in which a group of people uses their collective intelligence to approach a known problem or opportunity.

PREPARATION: up to 15 minutes
DURATION: 30-45 minutes
FACILITATORS: 1 per workshop
RESOURCES: Pens, Post-its, a large sheet of paper or whiteboard
PARTICIPANTS: 3–10 per workshop, design team, partners, community members

Brainstorming combines a relaxed, informal approach to problem-solving with lateral thinking. It encourages people to come up with thoughts and ideas that can, at first, seem a bit crazy. Some of these ideas can be crafted into original, creative solutions to a problem, while others can spark even more ideas.*


State the selected “How Might We” statement or a sub-focus area of it.

Based on the HMW statement or the sub-focus area, define the criteria and select a suitable group of participants. Aim for diversity among participants. Then, decide what are the central themes to start generating ideas.

Organize a meeting with the selected participants, and gather the necessary resources and supplies. Think about what expectations will be set up-front, how you will start and end the workshop, and how much time participants are expected to dedicate to this activity.

Give participants pens and Post-it notes and have a wall or whiteboard on which to stick them. Make sure everyone reads the Brainstorm Rules before you start. Present the challenge or opportunity to the participants, and write the question you want the group to answer on the wall or whiteboard. Then, guide the discussion. As each person has an idea, have her/him to put it on the wall or whiteboard, and then describe it to the group. Generate as many ideas as possible; never less than 20 ideas.

Write up your key outcomes (list of ideas) from this exercise. Make a short summary that includes your key findings.

Brainstorm Rules

The goal isn’t a perfect idea, it’s lots of ideas, collaboration, and openness to wild solutions. The last thing you want in a Brainstorm is someone who, instead of coming up with ideas, only talks about why the ones already mentioned won’t work. Not only does that kill creativity, but it shifts the group’s mindset from a generative one to a critical one. The only way to get to good ideas is to have lots to choose from.

1.Defer judgement
You never know where a good idea is going to come from. The key is to make everyone feel like they can say the idea on their mind and allow others to build on it.

2.Encourage wild ideas
Wild ideas can often give rise to creative leaps. When devising ideas that are wacky or out there, we tend to imagine what we want without the constraints of technology or materials.

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 “yes, and…” instead of “but.”

4.Stay focused on the topic
Try to keep the discussion on target, otherwise, you may diverge beyond the scope of what you’re trying to design for.

5.One conversation at a time
Your team is far more likely to build on an idea and make a creative leap if everyone is paying full attention.

6.Be visual
Everyone put the ideas on Post-its and then put them on a wall. Nothing gets an idea across faster than a sketch.

7.Quality through quantity
Aim for as many new ideas as possible. In a good session of 60 minutes, up to 100 ideas are generated.

Back to Tool Factory