Osborn's Brainstorming Method: Principles & Rules

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

This brainstorming method uses a healthy dose of the ~'outrageous~' and eliminates criticism. In this lesson, you'll learn more about Osborn's brainstorming method and its rules and principles.

Bad Brainstorming

You're sitting in a business meeting and brainstorming ideas for a new project. But things aren't going well. Your boss has only acknowledged one or two of what she calls ''the best ideas so far'' and is critical of the remainder. She has been unwilling to think outside the box and shuts down any of the team's attempts to take one idea and build on it to make it better.

In short, she has broken the rules. That's right! She's broken the rules of effective brainstorming first identified by advertising executive Alex Osborn. In the 1940s, Osborn found himself in a frustrating meeting where his employees were struggling to come up with a creative idea for an upcoming ad campaign. Osborn decided to change his approach and embrace what he called ''thinking up.'' It was the forerunner to what we know today as brainstorming, or using a group setting to harness creative thinking by embracing all thoughts, listening to others' ideas, and combining them to come up with the best options.

Osborn recognized that employees needed a few parameters for successful brainstorming sessions. From that, he developed two principles to guide his brainstorming activities.

Brainstorming Principles

To stoke creativity and give employees freedom and flexibility to think creatively and share their thoughts, Osborn believed two principles were key. First, he eliminated the notion of judging any idea presented. Employees, he believed, would feel safer and thus more likely to share their thoughts in an atmosphere where judgment--both verbal and non-verbal--are withheld. That means Susie can contribute any idea, no matter how silly it may seem, without the fear of getting a dirty look across the table from Debbie.

Osborn's second principle of brainstorming was to encourage quantity of ideas. He believed that by coming up with lots of ideas, the team would find a good working solution amongst them. The idea is that a large volume of ideas will eventually lead the team to the one with the best quality.

In addition to his principles, Osborn also developed four rules for brainstorming groups to follow. Let's take a look at those now.

Osborn's Rules for Brainstorming

Osborn established a few ground rules to create the right type of environment for creativity to flourish. He designed them to help boost employee creativity in an environment that would be receptive of new, even outrageous, ideas.

Rule #1: Choose Quantity

Osborn believed that allowing employees to create as many ideas as possible was the best way to achieve creative success. He decided that the freedom to contribute a seemingly innumerable amount of ideas would lead to the right idea or the right combination of ideas to achieve success. Inside of this rule, Osborn reiterated that ideas should be short and thrown out in the open, which could give others the opportunity to add to or embellish.

Rule #2: Open Your Mind to Outrageous Ideas

The basis of this rule is that nothing truly innovative comes out of playing it safe. Brainstorming should expand the limits of a participant's creativity and give them the freedom to contribute an idea, no matter how outlandish or outrageous it seems. These types of ideas can often be modified or adapted to be suitable for the need at hand.

Rule #3: Shelve Criticisms

There's no place for criticism in an Osborn-inspired brainstorming session. Don't chime in with comments like, ''That will never work'' or, ''That's a ridiculous idea.'' Don't cross your arms, laugh, or roll your ideas at any creative suggestion. Because there are no rules to limit the creativity of brainstorming, there can also be no judgment. This way, participants feel free to share without fear of retribution.

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