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Brainstorming is a classic idea generation technique and remains one of the most rapid and rewarding methods of generating lots of ideas within groups. The greatest disadvantage of this technique is however that group dynamics and/or self-censorship may hinder the sharing of participants’ most imaginative ideas. Rules for brainstorming are therefore applied as described below in the guidance section.

Brainstorming can be used throughout the entire development process, but is particularly relevant at the beginning of a project, when students have researched their project challenge. In order to set a frame for the brainstorm use this method: How might we …?.


As a teacher / facilitator please avoid suggesting ideas or judging the ideas, because it should be the students themselves who generate the ideas, and the quality of the ideas should be tested outside the classroom with users and other relevant stakeholders.

1. Have the students to reformulate their problem or project goal as a phrase starting with “How might we …”, e.g.: “How might we attract more visitors to our website?”

2. The students are to now choose the best “How might we …” phrase.

3. Then present the brainstorming rules (Source:, Stanford University):

  • Defer Judgement – Don’t judge your own ideas or those of others
  • Go for volume – 100 better than 10
  • One conversation at a time – focus
  • Encourage wild ideas – the crazier the better
  • Build on the ideas of others – leverage perspectives
  • Stay on topic – stick to the “how” problem
  • Be visual – communicate your ideas for teammates by sketching

4. Students should now begin by jotting ideas down on Post-its and then sticking them up onto flip charts. Provide a time limit (5 minutes, for example), so they don’t over sensor themselves.

5. Repeat the brainstorming round a few times, but maximum 45 min. in total.

Worth Considering

Some brainstorming fundamentals:

  • Individuals are better at generating ideas than groups (Girotra et al., 2009)
  • Groups are better at selecting the best ideas (Singh & Flemming, 2009), which can be related to “wisdom of the crowds” (Surowiecki, 2004)
  • Individuals are significantly worse at selecting their own creative ideas (Faure, 2004; Putnam & Paulus, in press; Rietzschel, Nijstad & Stroebe, 2006)

You can find inspiration and references to the theory behind the creative processes and techniques in this literature list.


The participants need to prepare a problem statement in advance, preferably phrased as How might we…? questions. Bring flipcharts, sticky notes and markers.


De Bono, E. (1971). The use of lateral thinking. Jonathan Cape.
Osborn, A. F. (1953). Applied imagination.

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