Basic Types of Brainstorming

Cite this article as:"Basic Types of Brainstorming," in The Business Professor, updated July 9, 2014, last accessed August 8, 2020,

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Basic Types of Brainstorming

Individual Brainstorming – Brainstorming can be carried out in groups or alone. Research is divided on which produces the highest quality of ideas. Individual brainstorming, like group brainstorming, requires that the individual follow the same rules with minor exceptions. The techniques to enhance the effect of brainstorming can be used in individual brainstorming as well. Brainstorming individual is generally most effective in simple problem solving.

Group Brainstorming – Group brainstorming have obvious advantages over individual brainstorming. The sheer number of ideas tends to be greater in groups.  Individuals can be inspired by the ideas of other members.  Groups can examine a single idea in greater and expand on that idea. The diversity of experience of the members sparks a wider variety of ideas. Further, there is social value in group brainstorming.  Members feel greater camaraderie and are more likely to settle on a best idea because they feel as if they have contributed to the process.  The downside to group brainstorming is that members are often more susceptible to the variety of inhibitions listed below.  Particularly, individuals become reluctant to participate fully or lose concentration due to social inhibitions.  Group brainstorming is often most effective in complex problem solving situations.

Brainstorming Variations and Other Techniques

Brainstorming has been the subject of great study and practice since its introduction in 1953 by Alex Osborn. Over the years various modifications and variations of the traditional brainstorming model have developed. There are far to many varieties to list and explain in this chapter; however, I’ve listed some well-known techniques below for your further research.  (A good source of information for these techniques can be found at

Nominal Group Technique – Participants brainstorm and provide their ideas anonymously.  The facilitator collects the ideas and the group votes or ranks their preferences for ideas. The top ranked ideas are re-evaluated by the group for further development. The group may be broken up into sub-groups that will work on individual aspects of the idea. The subgroups will submit their new ideas anonymously.  The collective group will vote or rank their ideas again. Ideas may change dramatically through this process. Some ideas that were excluded by the group may reappear through the natural development of the favored ideas.

Group Passing Technique – Individual participants write down an idea and pass it to another member in the group.  Each person will pass their idea and receive someone else’s idea. New, each participant will add some thought or detail to the idea and pass it again. This will happen until each participant has commented on everyone else’s idea.  The elaborated ideas are then presented to the group for evaluation.

Electronic Brainstorming (or Brain-netting) – Electronic brainstorming means collaborating and ideating through the use of an electronic medium, such as videoconference or email.  Individuals brainstorm individually and list their ideas on a collaborative network. The contributions of each individual are generally anonymous to prevent a reluctance to participate. Participants will draw from posted ideas to inspire further ideas. At some point, the participants will evaluate and prioritize the ideas. The benefits of using a electronic medium is the ease of maintaining anonymity, the ability to collaborate over an extended period of time, and individuals do not have to be in the same location or contribute at the same time.

Question Brainstorming – Participants attempt to produce questions rather than just ideas.  The questions are used to inspire thought in others. Individuals will naturally attempt to think of answers or solutions in the process of creating new questions. At the end, the participants will prioritize the questions most in need of address.  This technique can be very useful in narrowing down the particular customer want or need that the entrepreneur wishes to fulfill.

Mind Mapping – Mind mapping employs a diagram to visually capture information surrounding an idea or situation. The process begins by placing a word (generally representing the objective or parameters of your ideation) in the center of a page or board.  Participants in the mind map provide words that relate expand upon the central term. These words serve as branches off of the central word and may serve as categories.  Sometimes the words give rise to broader words that replace that word as a higher-level category.  The branches from the higher-level categories can be other ideas, tasks, related concepts, etc.  The ideas are placed strategically around the central terms and categories so that it creates a web of ideas that can be interconnected. The process facilitates the organization and structuring information.  The main benefit, however, is having the ideas together so that the participants make mental connections between the concepts. The mindmap can be used for address many issues, aside from ideation, and can be used in a number of formats.

Concept Maps – Concept maps function similarly to mind maps, except it uses a while idea or concept, rather than single words and ideas. The concept maps generally require additional labels along the web to sub-categorize information. Concept maps allow for the creation of more diverse patterns of categorization.

Team Idea Mapping – The process begins with defined topic that provides the scope of the exercise. All participants brainstorm individually and the ideas are merged together in the form of a map.  Like ideas are positioned according to their association with other ideas.  As the ideas are consolidated onto the map, each participant explains the meaning or inspiration behind the idea. This process helps others view the idea from the originator’s perspective. The alternative perspectives serve to inspire new ideas and different approaches to each participant’s own idea. All of the ideas are then organized and prioritized by the group.  During this consolidation phase, participants may discover a common understanding of the issues as they share the meanings behind their ideas. During this sharing, new ideas may arise by the association, and they are added to the map as well. Once all the ideas are captured, the group can prioritize and/or take action.

Brainwriting – (Known as “6-3-5 Brainwriting, 6-3-5 Method, or Method 635) Brainwriting is very similar to brainstorming in that it promotes novel, unique, or non-traditional thought and ideas. Also, the exercise seeks to produce a high quantity of ideas. Generally there are six participants and a moderator in the brainwriting group. Each member thinks up 3 ideas in 5 minutes and records the ideas on a worksheet. The worksheet is passed to every other member of the group who repeats the exercise and uses the ideas already present on the worksheet as inspiration.  The objective is to produce 108 ideas within a 30-minute period.

Affinity Diagrams – Affinity diagrams are tools that allow for categorization of information into quadrants based on their inherent qualities.  Affinity diagrams have a number of uses, but can be particularly useful in providing context for ideation or brainstorming sessions. Once ideas are recorded, the ideas are recorded into categories and sub-categories.  This categorization process leads one to expand on the categories and sub-categories when expanding upon the ideas.

Others Techniques to Research: Step-ladder technique; Role-storming, Reverse Brainstorming, Starbursting, Round-Robin Brainstorming, etc.

The above categories of ideation techniques and tools are not meant to be comprehensive. Take the time to further research any of these procedures when you are actively developing ideas or expanding upon your ideas.

See Wikipedia’s explanation of Brainstorming for further reference. Also, provides an excellent resource for the Process and Theory Behind Brainstorming.

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