Brainstorming: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a simple exercise you can use in personal, educational and corporate settings. The goal is to notate and sort various thoughts and images as they randomly arise in our minds. With very little practice, you can do brainstorming sessions on paper. Or, try software if you want a portable tool to keep track of your notes and ideas when inspiration strikes.

What is brainstorming?

Colorado State University defines brainstorming as: "an informal way of generating topics to write about, or points to make about your topic." And Cambridge describes it as: "an activity or business method in which a group of people meet to suggest new ideas." So brainstorming can be an individual process or a group project.

Remember that brainstorming can occur any time during a creative process, but many people like to start a significant project with a brainstorming session.

You can brainstorm:

  • Topics for an academic paper
  • Advertising campaigns for your small business
  • Solutions for a household challenge — like a budget
  • Or, you can brainstorm individual parts of a project, like a thesis, conclusion or example.

There is no pressure to be "brilliant" at this stage. Just get those ideas out of your mind where you can revisit them as your project evolves.

Why is brainstorming important?

Brainstorming helps students, board members, authors, advertisers and executives every day. That's because the creative process is often non-linear. In other words, ideas can pop into our heads at random moments in a non-structured order. The human mind is a bit bizarre, and sights, sounds, even smells can trigger inspiration! Any time you have a good idea for your project, put it on your brainstorm.

Common brainstorming techniques lists these typical brainstorming styles:

Reverse Brainstorming

This creative problem-solving technique turns the problem around and considers the issue from a different viewpoint to inspire new, unique solutions.

Stop-and-Go Brainstorming

Great for group projects, this brainstorming style engages several people taking turns at a problem for short bursts of creativity. The group then alternates between creative brainstorming and critiquing ideas.

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Another group effort, this technique requires six people brainstorming for six minutes. Then, a spokesman for the group presents the best ideas.

But there are other types of brainstorming techniques. Some people prefer to use a whiteboard to display their ideas in a cloud-like cluster. Others like to arrange ideas in an outline on paper. Try a few different brainstorming methods to find what works best for you!

How to get started

A great brainstorming session will usually start with a central idea (or the main problem to solve.) From there, start listing your thoughts as they pop into your head. Inspiration can strike at the strangest moments, so it's helpful to keep a portable version at hand. Pictures can help too, when it's hard to put your thoughts into words.

In our modern age of handheld devices and internet access virtually everywhere, many people discover that brainstorming software is the most convenient way to gather their thoughts and share them with teammates.


Brainstorming makes for more effective employees and star students. This should always be your first step if you need to solve a problem or create a story. And remember to keep your brainstorms documented for future use! Even if some ideas don't pan out today, they might be helpful down the road.

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