The evolution of brainstorming

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Brainstorming is one of the most popular techniques for coming up with ideas. How often have you found yourself in meetings which took place in an unusual set-up, moderated by an external consultant who did his best to give everyone’s thoughts a fresh spin? Probably too often.

The term brainstorming was coined in the 1960s by Alex F. Osborn and derives from “using the brain to storm a problem”. As a big shot in advertising, coming up with ideas was a major part of Osborn’s life. The O of Osborn is the O in BBDO, the worldwide advertising agency network. In his book “Applied Imagination”, he explains the practice and points out the most important rule for every Brainstorm: “Do not criticize” and “Every idea is a good idea”.

Linus Pauling, another leader of his time, shared the same view. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962.

“If you want to have good ideas you must have many ideas.” – Linus Pauling  Twitter

Brainstorming has however also been criticized often, the two major critique points being:

  1. Brainstorming does not allow for discussion and dissent which leads to output of limited quality. Only a healthy portion of constructive criticism can systematically lead to good ideas.
  2. Brainstorming with larger groups is ineffective as the transaction costs to manage the Brainstorm exceed the productive coordination capacities. Brainstorming with small groups of 5-7 people has proven to be the most efficient. Given the smaller group size, it is clear that the results of a Brainstorm very much depend on the quality and motivation of the group’s members.

In the 1960s, Osborne hadn’t experienced the Internet and how dramatically it is capable of reducing transaction costs, especially for communication. In a world where people are always on and connected, Brainstorms can be organized with hundreds of participants in an affordable way.

In regards to the second critique point – dissent being integral for discussions to lead to a healthy exchange of opinions – the “Do not criticize” rule needs to be abolished. Criticism dramatically increases the entry barriers for Brainstorm participants since productively navigating opinions through discussion requires a much higher level of engagement by every participant, as opposed to the simple sharing of ideas. Driving the needed engagement is a matter of motivation. It is so not only necessary to allow dissent, but also crucial to motivate participants sufficiently to take part in the discussion.


When discussing the evolution of Brainstorming, we refer to a system capable of leveraging the ideas of large groups of participants at low transaction costs while navigating dissent in productive ways. This evolution is what we call Crowdstorming, the principle that jovoto is founded on.

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Bastian Unterberg

Bastian founded jovoto in 2007 to establish a more open, social, and collaborative workplace for creative talent as many of today's work environments do not match the DNA of the next generations of talent.