by Arne Harcks on 04/2/2014


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The Evolution of Brainstorming

by Bastian Unterberg on 04/2/2014

Brainstorming is probably the most popular technique for coming up with ideas. How often have we found ourselves in meetings which took place in an unusual set-up, moderated by an external consultant who did the best to give everyone’s thoughts a fresh start? Probably too often.

Brainstorming is the technique to create a lot of ideas. The term Brainstorming was coined in the 1960-ties by Alex F. Osborn and derives from „using the brain to storm a problem”. As a big shot in advertising it has been a major part of Mr. Osborn’s life to come up with ideas (fyi: the Osborn O is the O in BBDO).

In his book “Applied Imagination” he explains the practice and points out the most important rule for every Brainstorm: “Do not criticize” or the other way around “every idea is a good idea”. These thoughts are living up to Linus Pauling. Linus Pauling who can be considered another big shot of his time. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 and also the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962.

Although its principal idea: “Every idea is a good idea”, Brainstorming itself has been criticized a lot. The two major critique points are:

1. Brainstorming does not allow discussion and dissent which leads to a limited quality of the output. Only a healthy portion of constructive criticism can lead to good ideas systematically.

2. Brainstorming is ineffective when you brainstorm with larger groups as the transaction costs to manage the brainstorm are exceeding productive coordination capacities. Brainstorming with small groups of 5-7 people have proven to be the most efficient ones. Given the smaller group size it is obvious that the results of a Brainstorm very much depends on the quality and motivation of the group’s members.

In the 1960′s Mr. Osborne hasn’t experienced the Internet and how dramatically this network is capable of reducing transaction costs especially for communication. Given a world were people are always on and connected brainstorms can be organized with hundreds or thousands of participants at affordable cost.

So what about argument 2 – Allowing dissent requires discussion which leads to a healthy exchange of opinions. Changing the rule “Do not criticize” dramatically increases the entry barriers for the brainstorm participants as navigating the opinions through discussion in productive ways requires a much higher level of engagement by every participant than just the simple sharing of ideas throughout a brainstorm. Driving the needed engagement is a matter of motivation.So in order to disable argument 2 it is not only necessary to allow dissent but it is also crucial to motivate the participants sufficiently to take part in the discussion.

Talking about the Evolution of Brainstorming we refer to a system capable of leveraging the ideas of large groups of participants at low transaction costs while navigating dissent in productive ways. This evolution is what we call Crowdstorming.

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