November 03, 2021
Brainstorming vs. Braincalming


If you work in a big organization, small business, freelance, or eat cheese, there's a good chance you've participated in at least a few brainstorming sessions in your life. You've noodled, conjured, envisioned, ideated, piggybacked, and endured overly enthusiastic facilitators doing their facilitator thing. You may have even gotten some results. Hallelujah!

But even the best run brainstorming sessions are based on a questionable assumption -- that the origination of powerful, new ideas depend on the facilitated interaction between people.

You know, the "two heads are better than one" syndrome.


I'd like to propose an alternative for the moment: "two heads are better than one sometimes."

For the moment, I invite you to consider the possibility that the origination of great, new ideas doesn't take place in the storm, but in the calm before the storm... or the calm after the storm... or sometimes, even in the eye of the storm itself.

Every wonder why so many people get their best ideas during "down time" -- the time just before they go to sleep... or just after waking... or in dreams... or in the shower... or in the car on the way home from work?

Those aren't brainstorming sessions, folks. Those are braincalming sessions. Incubation time.

Those are time outs for the hyperactive child genius within us who is always on the go. Methinks, in today's over-caffeinated, late-for-a-very-important-date business world, we have become addicted to the storm.

"Look busy," is the mantra, not "look deeply."

We want high winds. We want lightning. We want proof that something is happening, even if the proof turns out to be nothing more than sound and fury. High winds do not last all morning. Sometimes the storm has to stop.

That's why some of your co-workers like to show up early at the office before anyone else has arrived. For many of us, that's the only time we have to think.

"The best thinking has been done in solitude," said Thomas Edison. "The worst has been done in turmoil."

I'm not suggesting that you stop brainstorming (um... that's 20% of our business). All I'm suggesting is you balance it out with some braincalming. The combination of the two can be very, very powerful.


1. In the middle of your next brainstorming, session, restate the challenge -- then ask everyone to sit, in silence, for five minutes, and write down whatever ideas come to mind. (Be ready for the inevitable joking that will immediately follow your request). Then, after five minutes are up, go "round robin" and ask everyone to state their most compelling idea.

2. Ask each member of your team to think about a specific business-related challenge before they go to bed tonight and write down their ideas when they wake up. Then, gather your team together for a morning coffee and see what you've got.

3. Conduct your next brainstorming session in total silence. Begin by having the brainstorming challenge written on a big flip chart before people enter the room. Then, after some initial schmoozing, explain the "silence ground rule" and the process: People will write their ideas on post-its or flip charts. Their co-workers, also in silence, will read what gets posted and piggyback. Nobody talks.

It's your decision, at the end of the idea generating time, if you want the debrief to be spoken -- or if you want people to come back the next day for a verbal debrief.

"Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at November 3, 2021 10:23 PM



Couldn't agree with you more about brain calming. Check out this piece on my blog from this past summer.

Posted by: Bill Williams [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 6, 2011 09:18 PM

Thanks, Bill. I very much enjoyed your blog post. Birds of a feather. It's interesting that many culture's biggest punishment is "solitary confinement" -- the very same opportunity that monks and inwardly directed people want more of. Clearly, there is too much clutter in most people's lives. And certainly too much clutter in most business lives were speed and quantity rule the day. I like the concept of the "slow food" movement. Might there be something afoot with "slow business" or, at the very least, slowing things down. Indeed, that's what all the great athletes say after an extraordinary performance -- that THINGS SLOWED WAY DOWN...

Posted by: Mitch Ditkoff [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 6, 2011 09:26 PM

Great topic Mitch, from my experience you are right on. I remember in college how I used to try and study while blasting the Blues Project in the background. It only took me several decades to realize that I was not very good at multi-tasking and needed total quiet to absorb something fully. I find the same thing with getting innovative. I need to sit quietly alone and do various personal exercises to get into the gravitational pull of the world I'll be exploring. Once I am drawn into the world's atmosphere I can start to breathe and move around that world with fluidity. That's when my creative juices snap in, and it's a very cool experience. But it's delicate. The slightest distraction will blast me up past the atmosphere where I no longer have access to the insights on that planet. I can't have other people chiming in or competing for my attention during that process. It's taken me a while to develop and appreciate the power of quietness and it's only after going through that quiet process that I feel I can be of any value when going the next step of working with others.

Posted by: IJ Woods [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 7, 2011 11:16 AM


Slow food. Not to make you spend all your time on my blog, but as you said in reaction to my first post:
Great minds are indeed thinking alike. Read Food for Thought here:

Posted by: Bill Williams [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 7, 2011 12:16 PM


This is a topic that has not been touched on as much as people should, being that like you said the worse kind of thinking takes place during turmoil. However brainstorming has been becoming more pushed upon the youth of today in the educational system, with all the group work and team orientated way of teaching in academia. But on the other side of thinks the idea of braincalming should be look at in a closer fashion, so that mankind can develop more thoughtful idea concepts by thinking in solitude. In my opinion I believe that while thinking in solitude may be beneficial to some their are thinkers who can not develop useful ideas without the use of music or some other thing to stimulate the mind.

Posted by: BFoster#9 [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 3, 2012 10:18 AM

Thanks Mitch. Very well written and easy to follow :-)

Your first point to get started is sometimes called BrainWriting. And it serves exactly the purpose you are describing: Getting into one's own thoughts and noting down results before the big discussion begins and everybody just follows the loudest voice.

In addition, if the notes are posted in a public place like a whiteboard or flipchart, this increases the chance to acutally discuss weird ideas (which could be suppressed if they are just on my sticky note and I find out that everyone else is going in another direction).

Looking forward to future posts.
Best Regards

Posted by: Henryk Stoeckert (TOM SPIKE) [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 25, 2022 06:18 AM

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