Structured Brainstorm – An Oxymoron or a useful tool?

brainstormThere is really no set way to brainstorm.Some people think we’re doing it all wrong!

I have always favoured a brainstorm methodology that is unstructured in terms of input, but which has an organizing architecture built around it either before during or after the session by a third party. Using this brainstorm framework, participants are encouraged to group and rank their raw input and generate potential projects.

Brainstorm ideas need to be grouped and organized; otherwise, you are just left with a long list of ideas on a flip chart that you will probably never look at again.

Here are a few other brainstorm techniques that suit different personalities and different situations. Just to get you thinking:

Top That

Nothing drives innovative brainstorm thinking faster than a little competition. In Top That, a highly interactive problem solving technique, groups compete against one another to develop THE single most innovative idea to solve the challenge. After developing concepts, groups exchange their best ideas and are challenged to improve one another’s top ideas. This is a very effective method for cross-building ideas and evoking a higher level of creative thinking from your group.

Deep Thought

This is a silent problem solving technique that begins with individual idea generation and then grows exponentially involving every member of the group. Participants write down an idea for the group to consider, ideas are passed around, and continually build upon by colleagues until the collective genius of the group has been written down. This non-verbal brainstorm technique is a safe, effective way to engage the shy, self-conscious, or “silent thinkers” in your group to contribute his or her ideas.


This investigative problem solving technique utilizes a similar method used by top news reporters to uncover the “a-ha!” facts of a story and solve mysteries. By examining a challenging problem or issue from the five perspectives (viewpoints) of “Who,” “When,” “Where,” “Why,” and “How”, a group can quickly uncover important new insights into the motivation(s) of human behavior, the causes and effects influencing a situation, and opportunities surrounding the timing or location of a situation.


SCAMPER is another well known problem solving technique based on the theory that every new innovation is in some way, shape or form, really an adaptation of something that already exists. Each letter of the SCAMPER acronym points to a different way groups can play with the characteristics of the challenge to stimulate new ideas, or explore new possibilities:

S = Substitute
C = Combine
A = Adapt
M = Magnify
P = Put to Other Uses
E = Eliminate (or simplify)
R = Rearrange (or Reverse)

Mind Mapping

A popular problem solving technique that closely mimics the brain’s natural process of making spontaneous associations. The process begins with a key idea word or concept that serves as a focal point for the challenge; next, related ideas triggered by the key word radiate outwardly in all directions. This technique is a powerful way to visually explore, conceive, connect, combine and organize information about an issue or challenge.


This is the process of making novel new combinations. This engaging problem solving technique is about combining, linking and merging two or more different ideas, images, parts, functions, notions, flavors or concepts together with a mad scientist’s gleeful sense of combinatory play. Apple’s blockbuster iPhone product is an ingeniously designed combination of a cell phone, iPod music player, web browser, calendar, calculator, clock, GPS, camera, photo album, note pad, voice recorder.


In this unique problem solving technique, the group is divided into small groups. Each one is provided a well-known archetypal personality (i.e., a groundbreaking innovator, inventor, or performer (e.g. Steve Jobs, James Watt, Lady Gaga) who serves as the symbolic leader. The groups compete with one another to generate the most innovative ideas possible by channeling their ideation process through the distinctive personality traits of their renowned leaders.

Idea Reversal

Also known as counter-intuitive, or 180-degree thinking, this provocative problem solving technique is based on the premise that often the worst sounding ideas imaginable can contain the seeds of great ideas if effectively “turned around”. This highly enjoyable, reverse-logic technique helps liberates participants from seriousness and frees the imagination from the limiting confines of conventional thinking.

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