The one sentence summary

Brainstorming is the best way to generate lots of fertile ideas.


  • This is the classic 1953 book about the principles and procedures of creative problem solving, written by one of the founders of the BBDO advertising agency (Batten Barton Durstine Osborn).
  • Here he coins the concepts of brainstorming and group ideation for the first time. (He recommends 12 people as the optimum number).
  • The system is based on four principles:
  1. Criticism is ruled out. Adverse judgement of ideas must be withheld till later.
  2. Freewheeling is welcomed. The wilder the idea, the better.
  3. Quantity is wanted. The greater the number of ideas, the more the likelihood of winners.
  4. Combination and improvement are sought. Build on the ideas of others.
  • Our thinking mind is mainly twofold:
  1. A judicial mind analyses, compares and chooses
  2. A creative mind visualises, foresees, and generates ideas
  • When judgement is served too early, it stifles creativity, so groups adopting the second approach generate 10 times as many ideas.
  • Creative imagination hunts out interesting stuff, and works out how to change what is found. The process needs to run from orientation, preparation, and analysis to ideation, incubation, synthesis and
  • The brief or subject of each brainstorm needs to be specific, thus preventing vague ideas that won’t work.


  • When you participate in a brainstorm, don’t drive with the brakes on.
  • Useful questions to ask include:
  • “This is next to what?”
  • “What does this go with?”
  • “What happens before or after?”
  • “Smaller or larger?”
  • “What’s this like?”
  • Adapt? Modify? Magnify? Minify? Substitute? Rearrange? Reverse? Combine?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein

“A problem well stated is half solved.” John Dewey


  • It’s 65 years old, so you need to aim off for that. There are some hilarious anachronisms such as “Several organizations have found it helpful to include females on each brainstorm panel.”
  • Subsequent academic studies have claimed that brainstorming generates fewer ideas than individuals working on their own and then pooling their ideas. The author himself admits that only 10% of the ideas will be usable.