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Individual brainstorming, a problem-solving method, stimulates creative thought through various techniques and exercises.

Many people associate brainstorming with the fields of advertising, marketing, and creative writing, but many other professional and academic fields make use of the technique. Most fields favor group brainstorming sessions, however recent psychological studies have begun to suggest that individual brainstorming produces more-effective results than group sessions.

An individual brainstorming session usually includes steps such as:

  1. defining the problem
  2. defining a solution
  3. reaching a conclusion

Experts have developed numerous techniques to aid in the development of a solution — ranging from drawing pictures to freewriting.

Brainstorming steps Edit

Defining a problem Edit

Each brainstorming session should begin by clearly defining "the problem". An individual should write down every aspect of the problem, even information which may seem superfluous. By writing down the information in a tangible format, the individual will not forget aspects of the problem while developing a solution.

Defining a solution Edit

To explore solutions to a problem, the method encourages individuals to focus for 10-20 minutes, then to take breaks and leave the problem. During this time the brain can rest from the strenuous work and absorb the information presented thus far in the process.

Each brainstorming session can include one or many techniques to stimulate creative thought — techniques such as writing, talking aloud, drawing, creating games, and developing diagrams. Most experts suggest an individual should begin by writing down as many ideas as they can — without censoring or considering the logic of each idea. This will give the individual many possible solutions to combine or to develop further. Alex Faickney Osborn, the inventor of brainstorming, suggests that people follow four basic rules while brainstorming:

  1. Do not judge an idea
  2. The wilder the idea the better
  3. Look for quantity, not quality
  4. Combine and improve ideas once you finish

These rules aim to stimulate creativity by ignoring logic. The brainstormer should consider and write down any stray idea, even an incomplete idea.

The conclusion stage Edit

This stage has the object of considering whether the brainstorming has found the best solution for the problem; and whether one can logically implement that solution. Solution and problem should form a synthesis; therefore brainstormers should review the original clarification of the problem and ensure that the solution proves a logical and effective response. One common tactic during this stage involves writing the solution as if presenting it to a superior in the work-place or to a panel of experts that one must persuade to accept the solution. Another tactic involves envisioning the steps necessary to implement the solution. If time allows, this stage should take place a day or two after the crystallization of the solution.

Worked example Edit

Example Problem: Develop a theme for a high-school dance

Freewriting Edit

The freewriting technique stimulates creative thought through duration and continuity. Individual prospective freewriters should create an environment in which they may work uninterrupted. Then they set an alarm for a chosen point of time and begin to write. The pen should not leave the paper until the alarm sounds. Freewriters ignore grammar and spelling during a freewriting session, as they aim solely to generate a variety of ideas.

Example: Edit

“Students dress as Christmas character like Santa, Mrs. Claus, elves; dress for 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s. Can be television characters; Alf, carebears, smurfs. Can decorate dance hall in pictures from television shows and place novelty TVs around. Island theme. Decorate in fake trees include sand? Students dress Giligans island/ sea captain...pirate...”

Free speaking Edit

This concept resembles freewriting, but instead of writing, individuals record their own voice talking. Some people find this faster, and it has advantages for those unable to write quickly.

Word-association Edit

Word-association entails writing a list of words and forcing those words to relate to the topic at hand. This causes the individual to develop far-fetched and creative ideas in large quantities. The ideas may bear only a very loose relationship to the words.

Example: Edit

Dog – Create a theme in which everyone dresses as their favorite animal.

Job - Everyone picks a funny job and dress as if you were going to work

Coffee - Dress as favorite spokes-character (for example: Juan Valdez, Captain Crunch, etc).

President - Political theme can have everyone dress as favorite or least-favorite political persona

Spider-webs Edit

Spider-webs offer a visual note-taking technique in which a people diagram thought-processes. By using a spider-web, one idea will stimulate many other related ideas. (Compare mindmap.)

  1. Put the topic or the problem in a circle in the middle of a page.
  2. Draw lines out from the circle for subject headings. These subject headings become just possible ideas for solutions to the problem. Label these "1" to help organize the thought process visually.
  3. Draw lines out from the subject headings and write an idea — any idea — related to these subject headings. Label these "2".
  4. Continue to create more layers for the allotted amount of brainstorming time. Do not try to create a perfectly symmetric spider-web but write freely and follow any train of thought without critique.

Example: Edit


Views on individual brainstorming Edit

Since Osborn developed brainstorming in the 1940s, general opinion has regarded group brainstorming as more effective than individual brainstorming. However, according to Paul Paulus, psychologist in the University of Texas at Arlington's Group Creativity Lab, individual brainstorming can more effectively discover creative solutions than group brainstorming. For example, Paulus found that, on average, four individuals can discover four times the amount of information that a group of four can in the same amount of time. Paulus reached this conclusion after conducting more than 1,000 experiments. Psychologist Steven M. Smith of Texas A&M University explains that this occurs because people working in groups may stifle creative thought in order to impress their superiors or to conform to a group mentality.

Other experiments have suggested that group brainstorming can serve a a team-building toolTemplate:Fact. Many business people work in group brainstorming for this reason. Also, traditional brainstorming philosophy states that by drawing on people of diverse backgrounds and of different levels of expertise, brainstorming may generate a greater number of creative ideas. If brainstorming involves multiple people, ideas can evolve through group input. Therefore, instead of individual brainstorming (which may generate many ideas), group brainstorms may produce fewer ideas with more input.

Bibliography Edit

  • Fulkerson, Richard. "Freewriting — its uses and effects" ADE Bulletin 105. (Fall 1993): 37-42. Retrieved on 17 Sept. 2005 from ADE
  • “MindMaps: A Powerful Approach to Taking Notes.” 1995-2005. Mind Tools: Essential for an Excellent Career. Retrieved on 17 Sept. 2005 from
  • Osborn, Alex F. Applied Imagination: Principals and Procedures of Creative Thinking. New York: Scribner, 1960.
  • Siau, Keng L. “Electronic Brainstorming” Innovative Leader 6.4. April (1997): 251-300. Retrieved on 18 Sept. 2005 from
  • Wellner, Alison Stein. “A Perfect Brainstorm” Magazine 1. Oct. (2003): 31 33. Retrieved on 18 Sept. 2005 from
  • Whiting, Charles S. Creative Thinking. New York: Reinhold Pub. Corp., 1958.


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