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For us old ham radio operators, CQ is a call for conevrsation, shorthand for seek you. So an open call for interaction would begin, CQ, CQ, is anyone on this frequency? Or CQ and the person's call if on a schedule. (At the time I was PP8ZAC in Manaus, Brazil.) Even though that is a dip into retroculture, it strikes at the nerve of your kind of CQ. That might be blended into a title somehow. BTW, I am preparing to use your CI book in a new course in Becoming Bicultural (tho they have a different course title for it) for this summer. I have always used Hesselgrave's CCCC or Smith's Creating Understanding for CCC classes, but am morphing toward new dimensions in this dynamic field. So thanks very much. See? An old dog CAN learn new tricks.


Years ago I was a temp tech writer at a huge aerospace company and got assigned to take notes at a brainstorming session.

It quickly became clear that I was the only person with formal brainstorming training and I wound up faciltating the session.

We came up with a lot of, what I thought were, great ideas but no one would step up and implement them. Just as you point out, it ended up a real waste of everyones time and a personal disappointment for me.

Keith Harmeyer

Bob, this is an excellent post and one of the most enlightened looks at brainstorming I've read in awhile.

Your point about "good" and "bad" brainstorming is absolutely spot on.

In our work at SmartStorming, we've found that fewer than 10% of individuals in ANY industry leading brainstorms have had any training in the topic.

How the studies can leave out this fundamental point is hard to understand.

With training, a facilitator can learn proper structure, leadership skills (for ensuring a group stays focused and on-task) and a wealth of ideation techniques to draw upon.

Again, great stuff. I look forward to reading and sharing more.

Keith Harmeyer
New York

Keith Harmeyer, SmartStorming

Bob, your stuff is great.So glad I found your blog.

We action find in our work, both as trainers and facilitators, that the ideal situation is a combination of solo ideation and brainstorming. Again, it all comes back to the facilitator. But a group properly pre-briefed and challenged to ideate PRIOR to the session is obviously much better prepared to effectively share, build, develop and perfect ideas in the brainstorm.

Individuals can certainly generate valuable ideas alone. And groups can absolutely take those ideas and turn them on their heads 100 different ways - if properly guided through the process.

It is exciting to watch when they get it.

Henrik Mårtensson

I use the Crawford Slip brainstorming method a lot, and it has always produced very good results.

CS is a bit different from most other brainstorming methods though. The group is asked open-ended questions, and write their answers on slips of paper. Thus, ideas and suggestions are anonymous, there is no peer pressure, or group think.

I have found it useful to follow up a series of questions with a short group discussion, followed by a final group of slip writing.

The method itself has always yielded good results. The problem, of course, is that, as you point out, brainstorming must be part of a larger process. If the ideas aren't used, the brainstorming session is of little value.

What used to surprise me (it does not anymore) is that even though CS has produced very good results, I haven't yet seen a company that wants to use it regularly.

For example, I once used CS to do a risk analysis for a company. I did the analysis because a major customer insisted on it, not on the request of the company itself. That analysis uncovered a problem that, according to the management, could have put the company out of business. Thanks to the CS session, the problem was discovered in time. The issue could be resolved without any serious consequences.

One would think that would create an interest in using CS or other brainstorming techniques, but it did not.

Kate Carruthers

One important thing I've learned about brainstorming is to ensure that all different styles are accommodated. Thus introverts might participate better if given some time to think & write before sharing their ideas. While extroverts tend to want to bounce their ideas around with the group. Visual folks appreciate the space to draw their ideas before sharing. Critical to brainstorming success is good facilitation that looks after these aspects & sets/maintains effective rules of engagement.

Jason Yip

I'm wondering what you think about Edgecraft, the approach suggested by Seth Godin in Free Prize Inside.

Dan Scherlis

Coming from the online-games business, I had no idea that the very VALIDITY of brainstorming was in question. (You can envy my naivete, but it's lost now.)

I suggest that the crucial aspect of company culture that drives good/bad brainstorming might be the nature of communications: interactive versus linear. In the whiteboard-driven world of interactive media, we brainstorm productively and happily. In PowerPoint-based worlds, I've seen different results.

Wally Bock

One other thing I've found is that group brainstorming is the sort of thing that is very North American culturally. We like shouting out ideas. But people raised in other cultures may have trouble participating, meaning that their ideas don't get heard as much as us loud guys.



Thanks for writing, I found your post very balanced and in fact I likely did not put enough weight on the "cons" that listed on your post. I also was impressed the quality of the discussion in the comments, first rate stuff.

Mark McGuinness

Hi Bob,

Thanks for taking the trouble to respond to my post in such depth. I've added a link to your post at the end of mine.

I agree that it's essential to consider the people and larger processes involved when evaluating any technique. I imagine you could get the teams at IDEO or Pixar to play table tennis all the ukelele for an hour and they would probably come up with some great ideas!

You provided an excellent example when I was looking for someone to 'criticise the critics' so I'm glad you found my piece of interest.

Bruce Post

Remember Irving Janis, who wrote so much on "groupthink?" I imagine, Bob, he probably would agree with you: there are bad brainstorms and good ones. His analysis of the Kennedy Administration's decision-making involving the Bay of Pigs points to the disastrous consequences of bad groupthink or brainstorming. He then asserts that, later, the Kennedy group got it right with the Cuban missile crisis. They learned from their earlier mistakes in group decision-making and corrected them. In the final analysis, though, it comes back to integrity. Substance, which in this context is the willingness to be open, vulnerable and truthful, is the sine qua non in brainstorming. You can master the form, but without the substance, you end up engaging in what I call "Potemkin discussions" that give the appearance of good group dialogue.


I like brainstorming because I feed off of what others are saying. It makes me more effective when I can have the back and forth flow.

I have been in situations where the conditions were not right ... those that you mention regarding the company culture ... and we struggled in generating the back and forth flow of ideas.

Like all tools brainstorming has its place and it won't work for everything.

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