How to Make Group Brainstorming Not Suck (as Much)

How to Make Group Brainstorming Not Suck (as Much)

If you work in marketing, you might have a love-hate relationship with the trusty group brainstorm (or thought shower).

Did you know that no study has ever shown that this process works well since it first appeared in 1953?

You will have seen the extrovert taking over the room or the introverts stepping back and letting everyone get on with it.


When group brainstorming goes wrong, it can be a massive waste of time.

In this post, I am going to share four simple improvements that will mean your next meeting will produce loads more original ideas.

1. Brain Writing  (Note and Vote/Nominal Group Technique/635 Method/Brain Swarming)


One very simple change you can make to the typical group brainstorming session is to do what Google Ventures does.

Rather than just have an open discussion from the start, 10 minutes is given to each person to write down as many ideas as they can. Next the group is given 2 minutes to choose their favourite one or two ideas from their pile.

At this stage, each person is given the opportunity to explain their one or two ideas to the group and write them up on a whiteboard.

Once all the ideas are up on the board, the group has 5 minutes to choose their favourite idea in secret.

After the 5 minutes, votes are revealed and then once a person (the decider) will accept the final concept that goes into production.

The benefits of this process are that it is quick 15 minutes in total and also doesn’t let extroverts control the group as most brainstorming happens in private.

The science:

In a study Thompson 2003 – brainwriting generated 20% more ideas and 42% more original ideas than traditional group brainstorming.

If you are keen on trying out brainwriting and fancy using an app to help, feel free to check out This solution is great if you have a team of people not in the same location.

An Alternative – Brain Drawing

This process is an alternative to the brainwriting technique but instead of using words, the group is told to use images to portray their ideas.

2. Create Organisational Memory


One of the significant problems with group brainstorming is that many old ideas are brought up again and again which wastes time for everyone.

The solution to this is to create an organisational memory to so that ideas can be quickly checked to see if an idea already exists.

At NeoMam, we have moved to using Slack for maintaining a track of all ideas. Slack allows us to have channels for each client so any ideas are easily available to us and fully searchable.

Old ideas can also be incredibly powerful even the ones that were rejected by the group. Mattel, the toy manufacturer, keeps a file of ideas of discarded ideas called the “boneyard.” One of these rejected ideas helped to spark the idea of The Hot Wheels Custom Car Designer, which later became a bestseller.

3. Create the right environment


Research studies have suggested a positive effect on creativity from reading a funny cartoon or seeing puppies play.

Advertising agencies and successful startups have known this for some time with the inclusion of slides, ball pits and the ability to bring your pet to work.

If you are serious about getting better ideas than you need to experiment with the working environment. At NeoMam, we visit the cinema during work hours, mindfulness and of course, regular table tennis tournaments.

A first simple step is to have space for ideas that is away from more productive work.

4. Go for a walk


A Stanford study showed a 60% creativity boost from walking. It can be walking indoors or outdoors, even those walking on a treadmill showed increases.

What’s interesting is that you do not need to go on a half day hike as many of the participants walked for between 6-15 minutes.

If you find the idea of doing a walking meeting too strange then just take a 10-minute walk before your next sit-down brainstorming as the Stanford study showed that this still had a positive effect on creativity.


Group brainstorming has been demonstrated to be ineffective when compared with brain writing techniques. By keeping a track of old ideas in Slack and investing in your environment, you can improve the results of brainstorming dramatically.

If all this seems too much work then just take a 10-minute walk before your next group brainstorming session.


Have you got any methods that make brainstorming more effective, then be sure to drop them in the comments?