Brainstorming, while not truly a futures method, attempts to draw out peoples’ creativity through idea generation. It is a good way to quickly identify the key opportunities and risks inherent in an issue and to determine different future possibilities and alternate long-term strategies.

Uses of the method

  • Typically used at the beginning of a foresight project to flesh out the topic question or to begin analyzing a specific Insight or Issue. 


  • Fast understanding of the questions that need answering
  • Valuable method to ensure that all the relevant issues have been considered
  • Systematic, comprehensive and multi-purpose
  • Fast and ultra-low cost
  • Can be used by both individual analysts and teams


  • May be incomplete if not used with other methods or iterations do not go deep enough.
  • Needs less meetings, more structure and pre-planning of the issue to be considered
  • Can lead to group or faction think

Steps to complete

  • Considering the topic, Insight or Issue ask each question in turn without producing any answers
  • Avoid criticizing others ideas or censoring people
  • Listen to and build off of others ideas 
  • Generate lots of ideas and allow the session to free-wheel
  • Don't allow discussion or questioning though light clarification of an idea may be helpful at this stage
  • Sort your ideas into priority order or a logical order.
  • Capture your most exciting idea and biggest fear 
  • Determine the fixed factors (almost certain hard trends) that will inform your strategic response: slow-changing phenomena e.g. demographic shifts, constrained situations e.g. resource limits, in the pipeline e.g. aging of baby boomers, inevitablee collisions e.g. climate change arguments.
  • Capture variable factors: critical uncertainties i.e. variables, soft trends and potential surprises. Both these and the fixed elements will be key to creating scenarios and examining potential future paradigm shifts.
  • Capture unique insight into new ways of seeing that can be utilized by the organization. What are the advantages and disadvantages?
  • State alternative hypotheses drawn with different assumptions and judgments.
  • What conclusions can we draw from the exercise(s)?
    • How might the future be different?
    • How does A affect B?
    • What is likely to remain the same or change significantly?
    • What are the likely outcomes?
    • What and who will likely shape our future?
    • Where could we be most affected by change?
    • What might we do about it?
    • What don't we know that we need to know?
    • What should we do now, today?
    • Why do we care?
    • When should we aim to meet on this?
  • Finish by noting your next steps. Next steps could include a further round of iteration, a recommendation on how to get the answers or use of other research and methods such as 'Starburst' to create more vantage points on the issue. Repeat the exercise from a different perspective e.g..., taking a negative view or an unusual position, or from the viewpoint of another stakeholder. (see the Tear-Down thinking method here).

A variant of this method is brainwriting. Rather than ask participants to yell out ideas (a serial process), you ask them to write down their ideas for a few minutes; then, you have each participant share their ideas on to someone else, who reads the ideas and adds new ideas to their own. After a few minutes, you ask the participants to share their ideas wito others, and the process repeats. After 10 to 15 minutes, you hold an immediate discussion on the best ideas.

This method and your response can be shared with other members or kept private using the 'Privacy' field and through the 'Tag', 'Report' and 'Forum' functionalities. Use 'Tag' and/or 'Report' to aggregate your analyzes, or add a 'Forum' to ask others where they agree/disagree and encourage them to make their own analysis from their unique vantage point.

Click the 'Invite tab to send invitations to other members or non-members (colleagues, external experts etc.) to ask for their input. You can whether or not you want anonymous responses.  These can be viewed and exported within the Responses tab.

Further reference

A creative method devised by Alex Osborn, an advertising executive, in 1941 to generate more ideas from business meetings. Osborn noticed that meetings were generally inhibited  and proposed a method to stimulate more creativity.

With significant improvement of the technique over the years brainstorming is now a universally used idea generation technique and has morphed into may may variations.

Osborn’s method is described in his book ‘Applied Imagination' published in 1953.

There are many variants of Brainstorming:

Contact us
Even with all the advice and tools we have provided here starting a foresight project from scratch can be a daunting prospect to a beginner. Let us know if you need help with this method or want a group facilitation exercise or full project or program carrying out by us. We promise to leave behind more internal knowledgeable people who can expand your initiative for better organizational performance.

Contact us today for a free discussion on your needs.

Are there other enhancements or new methods you would like to see here? Let us know and we will do our best to respond with a solution quickly.

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