Why traditional brainstorming isn’t the smartest team strategy – here are 6 alternatives


Brainstorming is dumb. At least according to this recent article that’s been making waves in business and innovation circles. According to Co.Design – whose argument is more subtle than the title might seem – brainstorming is not actually “dumb,” but rather misunderstood and misused. Managers and leaders hoping to generate innovative ideas from within their organizations turn to brainstorming as their technique of choice, but fail to consider the subtle social and psychological dynamics which can make all the difference between a productive, fruitful brainstorm and a morale-killing time suck.

Want to learn how you can make brainstorming more effective? Twitter Here six simple techniques:


Brainwriting is Co.Design’s recommended cure for bad brainstorms. In brainwriting, participants silently think of ideas, write them down, and pass their paper down the chain for others to quietly read, consider, and then continue working on their own ideas. This technique avoids the cognitive challenge of actively listening and thinking at the same time. It also addresses the social challenge in any group of colleagues, where a few outspoken individuals will inevitably share more than those who are naturally more reserved. This social dynamic is what causes good ideas to go unexpressed and unknown, a major pitfall of conventional brainstorming.

“Just because you throw people together doesn’t mean wonderful things happen. It has to happen in the right way.” – Paul Paulus Twitter


S.C.A.M.P.E.R. is an acronym devised by Bob Eberle, an educator who published books about boosting imagination and creativity in children. Taking inspiration from Osborn’s original brainstorming technique, S.C.A.M.P.E.R. is simply a list of open questions to help re-frame a given creative problem:

Substitute: Which aspects of the original problem (materials, people, places) could be swapped out?
Combine: What if you were to blend two or more of your ideas together?
Adapt: What can you modify or change?
Modify: How about changing the size, shape, or color of something?
Put to another use: How might you repurpose materials, components, or go against people’s expectations of functionality?
Eliminate: What could you subtract, reduce, or minimize from your idea?
Reverse: What can you turn upside down, inside out, or backwards to make your idea more interesting?


RIP + MIX is an ideation method developed recently by Deutsche Telekom and a team of researchers at the University of Dundee. In RIP + MIX, a small team (as few as two people) can invent new products and services by combining a painful product or service with a pleasurable one. The painful experience would be something that the team is trying to brainstorm around, such as improving a hospital waiting room or creating a new app. The pleasurable experience should be chosen randomly from a pre-made list (things like flying first class, listening to the radio in your car, or going to the pub). The creators of RIP + MIX have even provided this printable list of cards, worksheets, and slide deck to help people implement the technique.




You know how the best ideas seem to come to you when you’re in the shower? Bodystorming works on that same principle – getting up and doing something physical, no matter how simple it is, energizes and empowers our brain to generate fresh ideas. How a bodystorm is executed depends on the topic being brainstormed. For example, if you are brainstorming around primary school classroom tools, you might set up a small simulation with tables and chairs, where your team can pretend to be young students. The premise is that ideas will come to you through the physical act of reaching, walking, carrying items, or standing and waiting in a real queue, as opposed to just talking about these physical acts.


The original approach to brainstorming comes from Alex F. Osborn, an advertising “mad man” of the 1960’s. Communication and connectivity have made significant advances since that decade, and it’s high time to renew this original approach with contemporary tools. This is exactly what jovoto has done by originating crowdstorming and building a business around it.

Crowdstorming is brainstorming at internet scale – a form of idea generation which leverages the creativity of the crowd. It has built-in structures for navigating critique and building upon feedback, a deviation from Osborn’s original brainstorming gospel of “do not criticize.”

“Crowdstorming is capable of leveraging the ideas of large groups of participants at low transaction costs while navigating dissent in productive ways.” – Bastian Unterberg, Founder & CEO, jovoto Twitter

World Café

A World Café is a tool for harvesting ideas and input from a very large group of people in a short amount of time. Facilitators create a relaxed, cafe-like space with several tables and chairs. Each table has a different theme (or for a deeply-focused café, all tables can be dedicated to a single theme) with a dedicated “host”. Participants rotate from table to table in 20-minute rounds until every participant has sat at every table. The host takes notes on each 20-minute conversation, being sure to pull out repeating concepts and similarities among each conversation sprint. At the end of the exercise, the hosts present a summary of all conversations to the whole group. This is a great way to allow for depth of conversation among a large group of colleagues – much more than can be achieved in a typical meeting where only one person can speak at a time.

World Cafe

© The World Café

Some of these techniques work best for groups, some are cut out for remote teams, and some can even work individually. It’s important to remember that each team and each project is unique; it will require good judgement, experimentation, and observation to find the tools that best suit your group. The best way to find what works? Play around with these techniques, run some experiments, and see what happens!

Want to find out how crowdstorming can help your business innovate more rapidly? Apply for a spot at IGNITE, jovoto’s exclusive event series all about cocreation, where you’ll come face-to-face with leading brands and companies that have turned their products and processes around through the power of the crowd.

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Katie Shelly

Katie Shelly is an experience designer with a 6 year track record in understanding people through human-centered design. She's currently earning her MA in Digital Experience Design at Hyper Island.



    Really interesting article ; )

    Interesting and helpful, thank you, Kate!

    I want try out the bodystorming part.
    There is something similar to world cafe and I know a lot of people are working with – open space. It has less rules but works pretty well.

    There is also an amazing example of how brainstorm could be automated to the extent where it almost independent from the facilitator (and its performance). It’s called Knowledge Reactor and it was invented by Russian futurist Sergey Pereslegin when he worked with physicists at Russian nuclear facility in Dubna. Mr. Pereslegin came up with the idea of transfer the structure of nuclear reactor to the group of people, so they can become at the same time Sense-generators (working with metaphors) and Coolant that adapts wild-cards to the reality.

    It works for large group of people only, starting from 18 people and its structure is similar to world cafe, but Reactor is much more dynamic so after 40 min – 1 hour you are usually so high (naturally) that you have to cool down in order to stay sane.

    This is actually quite remrkable activity and I would love to share it with everybody once you visit Moscow)