Take your brainstorming to the next level


‘Brainstorming’ is one of 30 techniques included in our PLAYBOOK, the free toolkit for creative thinkers.


Informal Brainstorming is the default go-to technique for any idea generating exercise. Half a dozen people sit around a white board and throw ideas up to a co-ordinator who quickly scribbles them down. It is a good way of getting the obvious initial ideas on the table. However, to move beyond the obvious and incite creativity, we need to take brainstorming up a level.

Build off each other


Give people the structure and freedom to think individually and collaboratively. The brainstorm canvas encourages a more structured exercise. It is designed to guide people to build on the ideas of others. By bringing out quieter contributors and muting loud-mouths, it results in more creative and collaborative ideas.


Use the canvas to build on each others ideas more inventively. Individually write down thoughts then build on them with “Yes, And…” contributions. You can download the worksheet below.

Brainstorming Canvas
Brainstorm canvas

Get the right mix

First, think carefully about the number and mix of participants. Experience shows that groups of around 5-7 people work best in this type of situation. They should bring complementary knowledge and expertise to the topic. It is a good idea to have individuals from different professions and disciplines, or with different thinking styles for example. However, you should actively avoid having people with potentially severely conflicting views in the same group. These may be better used in separate groups which are more like them.

Set a liberating / enticing Environment

You want to create an environment where people feel comfortable, at ease and safe on the one hand, while on the other energised and stimulated. It is a difficult balance to achieve.


Try to find somewhere which is free of unwanted distractions, is comfortable, informal and relaxed. Sofas, or bar stools, or even a grass patch in the park can be a much more effective environment than a boardroom. Or, do you have access to a space that engender creativity? The stage of a theatre for example, or an artist’s studio.


Another aspect of the environment to consider is how much space you have to play around and display your thoughts, diagrams, pictures or post its. You need the freedom to cover the walls, floor and tables.

Kick off right

How you set the brainstorm in motion can greatly affect its outcome.

1. State the question

Start by clearly stating the question clearly and simply. Provide only the essential context and criteria. Ask several in the group to paraphrase or re-frame, to allow a couple of minutes for the question to sink in.


2. Warm-up

Ask participants to think quietly to themselves for 2-3 minutes, and write down thoughts and ideas that come to them.


3. Share and brainstorm

Go around the group, asking each to offer up and explain an idea from their list. As they do, ask other to build on the idea with “Yes, and…” contributions. Continue for around 45mins or until thoughts are exhausted.


5. Structuring

You may want to guide the brainstorm by setting more structure to the thinking, such as setting categories to discuss (e.g. people, processes, Technology).

Define goal and rules

Everyone knows the rules of brainstorming, but few ever follow them. I mean, really follow them!


  • Go for quantity & variety – Be as divergent as possible
  • Be wild and unexpected – Try to find the unusual
  • Defer judgement – all ideas are valid
  • One conversation at a time – Everyone in the zone
  • Stay on brief – Avoid diversions, however entertaining
  • Most importantly: Build on the ideas of others.


This means listening to what others are saying and seeking to add to that. One of the most effective of doing this is to ask participants to always start their contribution with: “Yes, and …”


This forces people to build collaboratively on the ideas that emerge.



The worksheet is included in our free PLAYBOOK, a collection of 30 of our favourite tools and techniques. Download them all now in the PLAYBOOK.


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