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Confusion Tolerance is a method for creating 100 ideas in 15 minutes. It focuses on quantity as opposed to quality. By pushing for as many ideas as possible the aim is to reveal the hidden and most remote of associations.

The method utilizes the creativity of the whole group to elicit both all the immediate and obvious ideas as well as the different and unexpected ideas.

Confusion Tolerance is particularly suitable in the beginning of the idea generation process.


Start by explaining the rules for brainstorming.

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

(Source: D.School, Stanford University)


After the brainstorming rules have been presented one team member is handed a post-it pad and the time-keeper sets of the exercise.

  • When the exercise begins the person with the post-it pad starts by writing down one idea and placing it on the wall.
  • Then the post-it pad is passed around. Each team member takes turns writing down an idea, saying it out loud and placing the post-it on the wall. Remember to number the ideas so you can keep track of how far you are.
  • Continue taking turns generating ideas until the 15 minutes are up. Aim for getting at least a 100 ideas in total.

After this brainstorm you may need to categorize and analyze your ideas, which we suggest you do with this method for Idea clustering.

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 will need large sheet of paper (a flipchart) or Post-its.


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

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