Monday, 4 November 2013

Where Brainstorming Comes From

I posted the question "Does anyone know the history and creator of SMART goals" on the HRINZ LinkedIn group page in late October, and had a number of fascinating replies.

However, the post soon started to explore other models of decision-making, which led to brainstorming. One of the posters, Ed Bernacki, blogger, writer and creative thinker, related the history and development of the brainstorming idea, which I thought I would share with you all.

"In 1942 an advertising executive in Buffalo, Alex Osborn, started to write about meetings he had to create solutions for the problems of his advertising clients. He wrote a short book called 'How To Think Up' (as in, how to think up ideas)In 1953 he wrote 'Applied Imagination'. I found a copy of the first edition [as] I wanted to read the exact context for brainstorming. 

"The first 20 chapters talked about why creativity is important and how you can apply your imagination in more structured ways to create better ideas to solve your challenges or problems.

"This covered 287 pages of the 307 page book.

"He then started to talk about group processes. Only the final chapter focused on groups."

Ed also said of Alex's book that "Everyone has the imagination to create new ideas, be it artistically, or to solve the challenges we face. Our results may differ based on how we apply our imagination".

Ed continued that in 'Applied Imagination' Alex Osborn explored how to apply our imagination in more 'structured' ways. Alex "suggested that we have two types of imagination: our creative mind, which visualizes, foresees and generates ideas, [and] our judicial mind, which analyzes, compares and chooses ideas".

Ed also had some interesting insights into how the group idea of brainstorming, and a focus purely on idea generation has subverted the author's original intentions of generating new ways of thinking creatively. "If you can’t solve a problem by applying your own imagination, Osborn’s book includes 20 extra pages to help you engage other people to solve it [also suggesting we should initially start brainstorming in pairs, not in larger groups]. This is when he introduced the idea of brainstorming. To quote Osborn, ‘brainstorm’ means '… using the brain to storm a creative problem … and do[ing] so in commando fashion, with each stormer audaciously attacking the same objective!'."

In his last chapter in 'Applied Imagination', Alex's guidelines for harnessing group minds to solve a problem are:
  1. Quantity of ideas is more important than quality—at first!
  2. Don’t judge ideas until all are raised.
  3. Word your ideas in a positive and enthusiastic way.
  4. Record and save ideas—some will be gems.
Summarising his explanation, Ed says that Alex "ends the book with this thought 'We need new ideas to win wars. We need even more and better new ideas to win peace'. So much of our current thinking and writing on creativity simply reworks these ideas".

Thanks, Ed. Very insightful.

  • Bernacki, Ed (1 November 2013). Does anyone know the history and creator of SMART goals? Retrieved 1 November 2013 from 


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