16 minutesBy Canva Team

Brainstorming: How-tos, templates, and tips

Generate the best ideas through brainstorming. Discover its benefits and learn how to conduct an effective brainstorming session with Canva Whiteboards.
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What is brainstorming?

Need to cook up fresh ideas but don’t know where to start? Turn your half-baked plans into solid, inspired concepts with a brainstorming session.

Brainstorming is a creative technique used to help teams generate new ideas and find solutions within a given time frame in an open, non-judgmental environment.

Brainstorming ideas

Canva Whiteboards gives you infinite space to explore multiple ideas in a brainstorming session.

The meaning of ‘brainstorming’

The term “brainstorm” originally carried a negative connotation. The 1934 edition of the Unabridged dictionary described a brainstorm as “a violent, transient mental derangement manifested in a maniacal outburst.” In other words, to have a brainstorm meant to have a temporary switch in sanity.

However, in 1953, advertising executive Alex Faickney Osborn brought new meaning to the word. In his book, Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem Solving, Osborn described brainstorming as “using the brain to storm a creative problem — and doing so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective.”

There isn’t a lot of information as to why Osborn chose the term despite its original meaning. But ever since Osborn introduced this concept of brainstorming, it’s changed the way we think about and use the term.

The history of brainstorming

Osborn was the “O” in the advertising agency BBDO. But aside from being an ad executive, he was also an author and creative theorist and came up with various techniques such as the “think up” concept, which became the foundation for brainstorming. Osborn introduced the creative strategy to the advertising agency in the hopes of encouraging unconventional thinking in their employees.

According to Applied Imagination, Osborn developed four rules to brainstorming:

  • Generate many ideas: Quantity over quality. A brainstorm session starts off with the sharing of as many ideas as possible by the attendees.
  • Hold off on criticism: To amplify creativity, no one is allowed to pass judgment during the ideation stage.
  • Go wild: No idea is considered too absurd or weird. In fact, these so-called “ridiculous” ideas could give way to new and better suggestions.
  • Combine and improve: Participants of a brainstorming meeting should collaborate to build on and refine the group’s best ideas.

As more and more people and businesses adopted this creative method, various academics also studied it to confirm its effectiveness. The research brought about new brainstorming iterations that don’t necessarily follow all the points in Osborn’s model.

Though the brainstorming process has evolved over the years, ideation, innovation, and collaboration lie at its very core.

Sticky notes in a Brainstorm Whiteboard

With sticky notes, teammates can quickly drop suggestions onto the online whiteboard and build on each others’ ideas.

Brainstorming methods today

  • Face-to-face brainstorming: The type of brainstorming most people are familiar with, this involves meeting and ideating in person. However, face-to-face brainstorming can have its drawbacks, namely groupthink, which involves people agreeing to ideas to avoid rocking the boat, and strong personalities dominating discussions (whether intentionally or not).
  • Online brainstorming: This type of brainstorming has become more common with the rise of remote and hybrid work. A collaborative online platform, such as Canva’s Whiteboards, is essential for running a successful online brainstorm. With this tool, facilitators can prepare visual guides for more efficient sessions and play music to set the mood. Whiteboards also allow attendees to type their ideas in real time without fear of speaking out of turn.

With both types of methods, having a good facilitator is important. For face-to-face sessions, a good facilitator can mediate discussions to encourage everyone to speak and mitigate groupthink. For online brainstorming, facilitators are there to keep discussions from straying off track, keeping time, and setting the mood.


Who can brainstorm?

Anyone can use brainstorming to spark their creativity. By utilizing the right brainstorming tools, any person or group can easily come up with the best ideas to reach their goals.

Campaign launch brainstorming

Use graphs to organize your thoughts.

Teams

In Osborn’s brainstorm model, he recommended that there should be five to 12 attendees and a facilitator to lead the session. All the participants should be familiar or have varying experience regarding the topic to be discussed.

Teams can use brainstorming to come up with strategies for creating a new product, launching a campaign, outlining a story, or designing a website.

Individuals

In 1958, a Yale study(opens in a new tab or window) gave rise to the belief that brainstorming is not just for groups. A single person can generate creative and strategic solutions with the help of different brainstorming tools and techniques.

Individuals can also use tools like Canva’s AI text generator to help kickstart the brainstorm process.


The benefits of brainstorming

Brainstorming can reap countless, lasting benefits for a group. Here are just a few examples of what effective brainstorming can do for your team:

An example of brainstorming benefits

Brainstorming encourages teams to work together and support one another’s ideas, no matter how different.

Foster collaboration

More than just encouraging creativity and participation, it promotes positive collaboration and teamwork between members within a safe space. With this fun process, attendees get to examine all the possibilities and generate many ideas in a short duration.

Stimulate creative thinking

Hearing varied perspectives can help develop richer, more innovative ways to solve a problem. On top of this, brainstorming in an open and non-judgmental environment encourages participants to think outside of the box.

Encourage participants to bring ideas to fruition

Since the participants are all involved in deciding the next steps, there’s a bigger chance they’ll be committed to seeing things through.

Individuals, on the other hand, can facilitate an uninterrupted flow of ideas and enhanced output from a focused brainstorming session. It can help a person visualize their thoughts and present a clearer picture of what to do next.


What do you need to brainstorm?

Want to host a brainstorming session? Having a successful one isn’t just about rounding people up in one room. Maximize the full potential of this creativity technique through careful planning. Discover the basic components of a brainstorm and modify them according to your needs.

Use a timer when brainstorming

Facilitators can sessions short with Canva Whiteboard’s timer tool, which has a built-in music player too.

In a group brainstorming session, it’s ideal to have a facilitator, attendees, and a checker to assess the outcome.

  • Facilitator: The facilitator plays an active but neutral role in the meeting, encouraging participation, monitoring time, and ensuring objectives are met. They’re tasked with outlining and implementing rules and keeping track of the best ideas.
  • Attendees: Too few attendees may limit the amount of ideas generated. Too many, on the other hand, may lead to “social loafing”— a phenomenon where people exert less effort when they’re working in a big group. Groups of five to 12 are considered ideal.
  • Checker: Checkers help evaluate the generated ideas. For group and individual brainstorming exercise, the checker can be a mentor, friend, or older colleague.
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Canva for Teams
Have fun brainstorming online with your colleagues. Sign up for Canva for Teams, so you can all collaborate anytime, anywhere using our intuitive tools and fully customizable whiteboards.

Face-to-face, online, and hybrid brainstorming sessions all benefit from being set in the right environment. No matter where you stage it, the place should be conducive to communication. In BBDO, brainstorm meetings were held in a bright yellow room. The warm and unintimidating atmosphere made it easier for teams to share their ideas.

With Canva’s online brainstorming templates, people can join in from any part of the world. To set the mood, background music can be played by the facilitator by embedding media or through the timer. Even the virtual whiteboard’s selected colors and overall design can foster creativity.

Various research suggests that meetings should run for 30 minutes or less. The shorter it is, the easier it will be to hold people’s attention. For meetings with brainstorming on the agenda, consider the number of attendees and the complexity of the goal. Break up the duration into smaller segments.

At the start, spend time briefly discussing the goal and ground rules. Then, move on to the actual brainstorming process, from generating ideas to finalizing the next course of action.

Attendees should be informed about the reason for brainstorming ahead of time. This gives participants ample time to do their research and come prepared for the meeting.

When coming up with an objective, stick to a clear and specific goal. Summarize it in a sentence or two.

The facilitator can make use of a variety of brainstorming tools and techniques. This will also depend on what the brainstorm objective is and where the meeting will be conducted. From highly visual mood boards to detailed diagrams and charts, the right brainstorm technique should effectively capture and display everyone’s ideas.


Examples of brainstorming techniques

Determine the best brainstorming method to use by analyzing your goal. Whether you need to examine your company’s competitive edge or list multiple solutions to a problem, there are many creative brainstorming techniques you can try on Canva Whiteboards for your next meeting.

Mind map illustration

An example of a mind map, a brainstorming technique used to break down complex ideas.

Organize brainstorming ideas in a visual and hierarchical way. Starting from one central idea or keyword, a mind map helps you develop supporting ideas in a radial format. Businesses can make use of mind maps for product development, project planning, or process streamlining. But beyond the workplace, anyone can use this brainstorm technique to study, sort out their thoughts, solve a problem, and more.

example
Map it out
Place your main topic at the center of your whiteboard to literally keep it top of mind. Add more lines and shapes as you identify more supporting ideas.

Though it may look similar to a mind map at first glance, a concept map differs in form and use. Having a tree-like structure with many offshoot branches, this brainstorm map works to connect multiple ideas instead of just one main concept. It can also show the intricacies and relationships between various subjects.

Concept maps can be used to present complex information with ease. Researchers can show case studies to bring abstract concepts to life. Meanwhile, educators can utilize concept maps to encourage strategic thinking in students.

Aside from mind and concept maps, these different diagrams can also be used for brainstorming:

  • Fishbone diagrams (or cause and effect diagrams) help businesses pinpoint possible factors contributing to an underlying problem. At the same time, this type of diagram can illustrate how they can reduce potential risks in the future.
  • Using sticky notes, affinity diagrams help gather large amounts of random ideas and consolidate them into related categories. The technique is effective in uncovering relationships and formulating solutions.
  • A spider diagram is said to be a more flexible mind map. Instead of simple words, phrases and sentences can be placed inside the various “spider legs.” This diagram is useful for taking down notes, identifying areas that need further investigation, developing stories, and refining plans.

Short for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, SWOT analysis is a brainstorm technique commonly used by brands and businesses crafting a strategic plan. Teams can fill in each section of the 2x2 grid to objectively determine the internal and external factors that can lead to their success.

Sometimes, words aren’t needed to brainstorm effectively. Graphic designers, industrial designers, photographers and other creatives can convey abstract ideas with the help of a visual mood board. Gather inspiration for an upcoming design project by compiling photos, illustrations, patterns, color palettes, and more onto a physical or virtual board. Add structure to this brainstorm board by dividing it into grids.

A fun educational tool, KWL presents ideas in a chart broken down into three columns: what I know (K), what I want (W) to know, and what I learned (L). With it, students recall what they’ve picked up during the lesson and are able to track their progress. Institutions can also use the KWL format to spur more questions based on what people already know.


How to brainstorm

A clear goal, a chosen technique, active participation, and an effective tool or app to capture everyone’s suggestions all work together to produce a good brainstorming session. Preparation is important, but the real magic begins when people start throwing in their ideas.

How to brainstorm

Select the best date, time, location, and platform for your brainstorming. Even the room’s temperature, lighting, and furniture may enhance or hamper people’s creativity.

Additionally, don’t let distance or time zones prevent anyone from attending. Invite your remote team members to brainstorm in real time or at their own convenience using Canva’s online whiteboard and tools.

At the start of the meeting, surprise attendees with tasty snacks, sensory toys, and icebreaker games that’ll make them relax.

tip
Don’t lose your progress
As long as you’ve got a stable internet connection, Canva automatically saves the latest changes you’ve made to your brainstorm template.

Before the brainstorming commences, the facilitator will:

  • Remind attendees what the objective is
  • Set the ground rules
  • Help decide which brainstorming technique will be used
  • Inform everyone how long each section will be
  • Lead the discussion, asking guide questions when needed

The facilitator can make participants take turns speaking in one big group, or break them up into smaller breakout teams. Ideas can be written down or shared orally, with someone tasked to compile and present them later on.

Following Osborn’s four rules, brainstorm participants should generate many wild and varied ideas within a given time frame. Criticism should be held off for the latter part of the session.

Now comes the fun part. Through Canva’s online collaborative whiteboard, attendees can all participate by taking turns listing their ideas on sticky notes, using the draw tool, or filling in a ready-to-use brainstorming template. Arrows, shapes, photos, videos, and stickers taken from the media library and dropped into the whiteboard can help visualize ideas. The Text to Image tool can even be used to bring a concept to life.

Discuss all the out-of-the-box ideas generated by the group. Look for similar patterns or different concepts that might work together. Urge members to improve on someone else’s idea. Ask a person to build on it, then the next, and the next until it becomes a more fleshed out concept.

Take a moment to go back to the main reason for brainstorming. Check if the original objective has been met. And if not, go through another round of group or individual brainstorming. Try forming different subgroups or using another technique to spark new ideas.

Let everyone vote for the ideas they like best without being swayed by the popular vote. Remind people to consider factors such as its ingenuity, workability, and relevance to the objective. Participants can add fun emojis or leave comments beside their favorite ideas.

A more experienced checker can also join in to analyze the generated ideas. They can give their valued thoughts on what might work best for the project.

Close the brainstorm session by focusing on the next steps. Use Canva Docs to synthesize everyone’s insights from the session and help plan the next phase in a highly visual way. Remember to include the link to your brainstorm whiteboard in the document.

Achieve goals as a team by involving everyone in the implementation process. Create an effective work plan that establishes a timeline and assigns tasks for each member.

For teammates unable to join the brainstorming session, grant them access to your online whiteboard, or give a recap through a report or presentation.


Get inspired with brainstorming templates

Capture all your ideas, big and small, on our free and customizable brainstorming templates. With our easy-to-use tools and online whiteboards, you can brainstorm wherever, whenever, and on whichever device you prefer. See your teammates input suggestions in real time, then collaborate to refine the ideas and determine your next steps.


All you need in an online brainstorming tool

Ideate without limits. Jot down or build on ideas from a brainstorm session using our editable and collaborative whiteboards. Using their preferred design elements on an infinite space, anyone can pitch in to help achieve a goal or solve a pressing issue.

  • Unlimited space for unlimited ideas

    Unlimited space for unlimited ideas

    With a free infinite canvas and unlimited number of whiteboards, fully develop your ideas and still have room

  • Your ideas visualized

    Your ideas visualized

    Build stunning tables and graphs with automatic flowcharts, or sketch them to life with Draw.

  • All your work, in one place

    All your work, in one place

    From plan to execution, it’s all here. Take notes, brainstorm, collaborate, and more on the same whiteboard.

  • Workshop ideas to perfection

    Workshop ideas to perfection

    With your team, develop ideas through comments and stickies, and keep sync sessions on track with a timer.

  • Share your work effortlessly

    Share your work effortlessly

    Share a link to your doc and control your team's access. Present directly from the editor with Presenter view.

  • Expand your presentation to a Whiteboard

    Expand your presentation to a Whiteboard

    With just a single click, expand your presentation slides into infinite, collaborative whiteboards.


Brainstorming best practices

There’s no surefire way to guarantee a successful brainstorming meeting. Nevertheless, you can increase the odds by encouraging everyone to come prepared, using the right brainstorming technique, and following the agreed-upon guidelines. Try these best practices to maximize lateral thinking during your next session.

Party theme ideas brainstorming

Anonymous voting — using dots, stars, or icons — can help minimize groupthink.

Mix it up

Do the ideas generated in your session sound too alike? It may be good to switch up your attendees or form new combinations of smaller groups. Even a change in setting, tools, and method can revitalize a brainstorm session.

If you’ve got no choice but to meet with the same attendees, urge them to think differently through rolestorming or figure storming. This brainstorm technique involves pretending to be another character and finding solutions from their point of view.

Give everyone a chance to shine

Bring out the best ideas from shy or introverted members using the brainwriting technique. Instead of orally sharing ideas, each member gets the chance to list down their suggestions. In the next round, the list is passed on to another person who tries to build on the written ideas.

Try the 6-3-5 brainwriting method. Get a team of six people to write three ideas or solutions for each five-minute round. You’ll have 108 ideas after just 30 minutes.

Say goodbye to groupthink

Inviting people from varying backgrounds, disciplines, cultures, and age groups to brainstorm is the first step to combating groupthink. Making people vote anonymously by placing dots, stars, or icons on their favorite ideas can likewise remove the pressure of voting similarly.

Be organized

Explore varying brainstorming techniques to help organize ideas on your own or as a team. The right diagram will give you clarity on a subject or lead you to a solid, singular vision. Turn to maps to see the big picture, then add nodes to give more specific ideas or to ask more questions. Charts such as SWOT analysis, KWL, and affinity diagrams work best for ideas that need to be grouped together later on.


Brainstorming FAQs

Keeping an open mind is the most important factor in ensuring a brainstorming session succeeds. Not only should a participant listen to others’ suggestions without prejudice, but they should also try to improve on these ideas. Additionally, following the ground rules ensures everyone has a chance to impart their opinions.

There are many different brainstorming techniques. Bring your group’s ideas to life with simple mind maps or more elaborate concept maps. Select a chart to give structure to your thoughts. Pick a cycle diagram to visualize a flowing process. Better yet, start off with a plain whiteboard that lets you throw in as many ideas as possible and tie them together later.

Osborn’s original brainstorming model recommends having five to 12 people with varying amounts of experience on the topic to run a successful brainstorm. This may be adjusted to suit your needs. But bear in mind that the number of attendees may affect how many ideas are generated in a session. Plus, it may alter how long the meeting takes.

There are two important phases of brainstorming: divergence and convergence. During the first stage, the focus is on generating as many unfiltered ideas with the help of a brainstorming technique. In the second stage, the ideas are combined, refined, and evaluated. Then, the best ones are put into action.

To brainstorm business ideas, think about an industry you’re interested in or passionate about. From there, consider common or unsolved issues you or other people encounter. Brainstorm possible solutions to these problems. Choose from the most interesting concepts you generate as a viable business idea.


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