Is Brainstorming a Waste of Time?

Filed Under Mindjet

Michael Deutch

January 27, 2009

One of the top uses of MindManager has been consistently reported as "Brainstorming". I personally love to see my ideas flow and take shape on maps. Mark McGuinness at Lateral Action posed the question, Is Brainstorming a Waste of Time? in an update to their blog. They’re discussing ‘formal brainstorming’ which is governed by a set of rules that originated with advertising manager Alex Faickney Osborn, in his 1963 book Applied Imagination.

Photo by jurvetson

So, the ‘formal’ rules are basically:

  1. Generate as many ideas as possible – the more ideas you come up with, the better chance you have of coming up with good ones.
  2. Don’t criticize – it will dampen peoples enthusiasm and kill their creativity.
  3. Welcome unusual ideas – it’s important to break out of your usual mindset and consider wild and wacky ideas if you want to be really creative.
  4. Combine and improve ideas – instead of criticizing ideas, look for way to use them in combination and/or make them better.

The critics however state that brainstorming leads to:

  • Not enough good ideas
  • Lack of critical filters
  • Inhibition
  • Freeloading
  • Taking turns
  • Group think


I’ve been in some wildly productive brainstorming sessions with clients and with internal teams. We used MindManager projected in meetings or on webcasts and later, Mindjet Connect, which let the whole team, from multiple locations, add ideas simultaneously on the same map. The results:

  • Lots of great ideas
  • Incredible participation
  • Excitement
  • Simultaneous idea generation
  • Team synergy


Was there GroupThink? Perhaps a little. Was there Turn Taking? At times, by choice. Inhibition? Not by me :) Freeloading? Never! Critical filters? Ok, I have to admit it’s sometimes painful to listen to bad ideas or ideas that won’t fly without saying something. 

So, mind managers of the world. How does mapping impact your brainstorming sessions? Add value? Good ideas? Share your comments below.


9 Responses to “Is Brainstorming a Waste of Time?”

  1. Michael Deutch

    Thanks Edward, I’ve been recently looking at TRIZ. Sounds like you’re familiar with it. Have you integrated mapping at all with the TRIZ process / 40 principles?

  2. Edward Savage

    Brainstorming can be a great way of generating ideas. In product or service idea creation it can work well. In problem solving it is of limited value unless the team as used some prior tools such as Ideal Final Result to focus the solution area a little or uses the 40 principles as triggers.

  3. Chuck Frey

    Brainstorming sessions can vary widely in their effectiveness, depending upon the personalities in the room, people’s moods, the political climate at the firm, good/poor problem definition, and a myriad of other factors. I have experienced both extremes in the brainstorming sessions in which I have participated.

  4. Michael Deutch

    Thanks John. I agree, the power to ‘see’ ideas on the screen or wall is a powerful aspect of this process. I’ve seen it drive greater participation from the participants. And, I also enjoy the resulting conversations or at times disagreements that arise. It’s through those very discussions that teams walk away with a ‘collective understanding’ as well as insight into each participant’s unique perspectives that they bring to group.

  5. John Holden

    Productive brainstorming depends – amongst other things – on open facilitation. That’s what the four rules aim to achieve. Mind Manager is an ideal tool for this because its clean user interface leads enables quick idea capture. I’ve been using it, along with an overhead projector, for more than six years, to facilitate a large number of meetings and brainstorming sessions. Participants can see that their points are being captured, and then enjoy a collective process of clumping/dumping to create a logical structure from the ideas once the brain storm phase is complete.


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