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Is there an alternative word / phrase for ‘brainstorm’?


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 I have used a variety of brainstorming techniques for all sorts of training purposes. Recently I was told that the word had particular connotations in the health training area, due to an association with certain medical conditions.

I was asked to use 'wordstorm', (which avoids the apparently problematic connection with the brain) but it doesn't seem quite right to me.

Has anyone come across an alternative?

jane lunsford

28 Responses

  1. PC Debate

    This one will probably set off a lot of comments on “words” that are appropriate!.

    The Chambers Dictionary gives the following meanings to two quite different words :-

    brainstorming noun, originally US the practice of trying to solve problems or develop new ideas and strategies, etc by intensive group discussion in which suggestions and thoughts are put forward spontaneously.

    brainstorm noun 1 colloq a sudden loss of the ability to think clearly and act properly or sensibly; a mental aberration. 2 N Amer colloq a brainwave 1.
    ETYMOLOGY: 19c, meaning ‘a sudden violent disturbance of the mind’.

    Clearly they mean different things and should be used in appropriate circumstances.

    So what is the problem?

    Hope this helps



  2. pc alternative
    I attended a workshop recently where we had “thought showers”. The explanation given for the alternative phrase was that brainstorming can be linked to a condition related to epilepy. I shall continue to use brainstorming

  3. Brainbrowse?
    It’s preposterous, isn’t it, and, like many PC-isms, alternatives like “thoughtshower” are probably most ridiculous to sufferers. It does seem to be gaining ground, though.

    On the other hand thoughtshower does give rise to other possibilities like “thoughtspitting” for a bad session or “thoughtdeluge/thoughtbucket” for a good one. Brainrainbow if the results are mixed? Thoughtp… ?

    Here are some alternatives, not much good though, as far as I can see:

    How about Brainsurfing? Can’t get much more “PC” than that (unless you use a “Mac”) …

    Don’t forget your wellies!

    PS The origin appears to be Alex Osborn’s 1953 book Applied Imagination.

  4. Mmm good point!
    Sounds like we all need to brainstorm alternatives! Perhaps there should be a trainingzone competition to find a new phrase for this.

    Here are some suggestions:

    Talk it and Chalk it

    I know, scraping the barrel!
    Happy New Year everyone


    1. Suggest-Fest made me smile –
      Suggest-Fest made me smile – think I will adopt it!

  5. First thought process
    I agree with the comments about brainstorming. I, too, have been asked not to use brainstorm and the suggestion was first thought process.

    Any use?


  6. ‘brainstorming’
    As the ex training manager of a large care provider, this is a problem I came across when I first joined the company!! I ended up using the terms ‘think tank’, ‘free thinking’ or ‘creative thinking’ session as opposed to ‘brainstorming’ using the term that felt most appropriate for the type of training session being delivered. None have quite the same ‘feel’ as ‘brainstorming’ I admit, but they seemed to work in that environment.

    1. I’m a bit late to the party
      I’m a bit late to the party but a Think Tank Session does what it says on the tin!

  7. A new word for “brainstorming”
    A colleague of mine was recently doing a Presentation Skills course and was told about the negative implications of the word “brainstorm”.

    The delegate also told him that the PC terminology was, apparently, “mindshowering”.

    Practically speaking, whatever we call it, the vast majority of delegates are going to call it “brainstorming” anyway.

    I think the key here is that we are sensitive to our audiences and tell delegates to be careful with the language they themselves use.

  8. PC or not
    We too have come across this problem and no-one wishes to offend their audience so we always look for easy on the ear alternatives. We use some of the suggestions already made but also use ‘thoughtshower’ and ‘thoughtmapping’. PC goes in trends and therefore we have to judge the use of words on the day but I guess as long as we all are happy and know what we mean it works. Thought mapping seems to be the favourite at the moment here!

    0870 241 3998

  9. Excogitate
    Roget’s Thesaurus suggests ‘excogitate’ as a suitable alternative. Not very easy on the ear I agree, but it does make the activity sound more difficult and impressive, which may be an advantage!

  10. Brainstorming
    In the training that I provide I now use the term “thought sharing” instead of brainstorming.

  11. Alternatives to ‘brainstorming’?
    Like some others replying to this point, I feel annoyed at the puritanical attitude to language that this issue exemplifies. I first heard about this one from a delegate on a training course. Another delegate (who happened to be blind)immediately responded with: “Has anyone asked people with epilepsy for their views?”

    I shall continue to use ‘brainstorming’ – although I actually use the word rarely in the creativity sessions I facilitate. It has more important negative connotations with some people, to do with paperclips and PostIt notes and sitting around feeling uncreative…

    Alan Barker

  12. Waht about ideas generation?
    Like others, I too have had delegates commenting on “not being allowed to use brainstorming anymore”. I have yet to find where this originated although most people have heard (usually secondhand) that it is about mental health issues. So if any one can tell me where this has originated, I would would love to know. Most alternatives I have heard don’t really encompass what brainstorming is about, but an alternative could be generating ideas or ideas generation.

  13. Robin wins hands down.
    I like Robin’s ‘excogitate’ !!

    Wouldn’t you love to go into an important client session and say “I think we should all excogitate on this”. Or maybe “Choose some one you don’t know very well and excogitate- don’t forget to make a notes as you go along” . Marvellous.

  14. Brain … Nominal Group Technique
    Thank heavens Australia is 5 years behind the UK. I hadn’t heard of a problem with the term brainstorming … maybe soon.

    There is a technique … probably fairly old called Nominal Group Technique which I have used occasionally. It is a variety of the ‘b’ method which works like this:

    Individual group members write their own ideas without verbal interaction (and therefore without suggestion of group pressure) with other group members. After 10-15 minutes, each person presents one idea in turn, rotating around the group. All ideas are recorded without criticism or judgement. As people run out of ideas they can ‘pass’. Once ideas are recorded and clarified, the approach is basically the same as with ‘b’, however, placing ideas in priority order can be done either openly or by secret ballot. What I like about this method is that the loud, outgoing types don’t subdue those quieter types with good ideas.

    So, give ‘b’ the flick and adopt NGT. You’ll baffle them with science!

  15. Definition
    Brainstorm is another word for a seizure and may be experienced by people who have Epilepsy.

    I have not yet come across any PC backlash to using the word during a training session, but thanks for making me aware that some delegates might be sensitive to its use.

  16. a couple more thoughts
    The National Union of Students (now there’s a PC environment!) uses ideastorm. Another suggestion I’ve heard is thought cascade. My impressions are that the latter sounds ridiculously pretentious. The former I am so accustomed to now that I don’t think twice about using it.

  17. Brainstorming Forever!
    The name has been criticised in some quarters and deemed to be politically incorrect, confused, bored? I was. The contention is that some people who experience epilepsy might be offended by the expression Brainstorming, why? Because an epileptic seizure might be defined as a Brainstorm. I was highly sceptical of this claim and did some research of my own; I contacted the British Epilepsy Society (BEA) who are a group which represent the interests of sufferers, carers and researchers into this illness and spoke to their Public Relations department. Their response was to emphatically deny that the term Brainstorming was none PC and deemed the term perfectly acceptable and indeed made the interesting observation that they selves use this idea generating technique in their own offices and call it by its true name; Brainstomring. Not satisfied with this I posted a question on to 3 newsgroups and forums which focus on Epilepsy asking whether this term was none PC. I had 47 responses, all of them stating that no offence was received by this terms nor could there be by any reasonably minded person. The end result of this is that I continue to use the term Brainstorm and urge you to do the same challenging anyone who tries to convince you otherwise, they are not using the facts to make their decisions. I also sadly reflect on the fact that there are far too many HR departments with either so little to do or such a poor grasp on reality that they spend time sending edicts round requesting people to no longer use the term ‘Brainstorm’ when in truth there are no problems at all with this term except in their fevered and limited imaginations.

  18. Vive Le Brainstorming!
    Sorry to take two bites, but I must endorse Garry’s sentiments entirely. My introduction to brainstorming was in an ICI week-long group with a Frenchman who was clearly ‘taken’ by the whole thing, and used to shout aloud: “Vive le Brainstorming! Vive le Problem Solving!” Try it in your best French accent. You know it makes sense…

  19. brainstorm alternative term
    try ceberal drizzle!

    having much to do with OZ an UK, I find it amusing to hear Robin Henry suggest the latter is 5 years head of former. Perhaps there is a reason why UK is in a constant of state of innovation:the new answers may not always be correct – so new ones are needed and so on

  20. 2 Years!
    My God Paul, has it really taken you two years to consider this response or has your internet server blown? 🙂

    1. Please scroll to the bottom
      Please scroll to the bottom of this page before using it as a source, whomever checks; these 2003 comments do not represent popular opinion or even sensible opinion. Thank you.

  21. Hello, this may be a myth
    Hello, this may be a myth that has been picked up by some as I have checked the use of the term brainstorming with MIND as the leading organisation for mental illness and they had no issues with the phrase brainstorming?

  22. This seems to come up every
    This seems to come up every so often. I am quite certain it is a case of just sheer self-validation, when someone finds or has an idea that’s marginally meaningful in the most reaching sense possible. I have epilepsy; I not only have epilepsy, but I’ve also suffered multiple head injuries, two shoulders fractures (both of them), and various very confusing nights where I have to almost catch up with the fact that I did, indeed, just have a seizure.

    I would even describe myself as woke, or far left-leaning; I try to be careful with my language, even without verification. But when I heard in a secondhand sense that this may have even been possibly an issue, I, too, had to go find the source.

    I want to note that I find excogitation in particular a very cool word but absolutely inappropriate for this and very forced.

    I first went back to, finding it myself as it is indeed the earliest I can find the word printed, (as noted in another comment) Alex Osborn’s 1953 book Applied Imagination. Here’s the deal with that: he actually lists the definitions he used for Brain and Storm. The ‘storm’ he used was not ‘electrical confluence’, but rather, ‘to charge at/rush’. Like, blitz. That can be found around page 160 or so of that book.

    Now, and with express compliments to Garry, to actually answer the question. Is ‘brainstorm(ing)’ offensive or somehow hurtful to those with epilepsy?

    Heck no.

    However, should you not treat epilepsy as if it is a mental disorder, like being careful about the word ‘brainstorm’ as if it will hurt our feelings?

    Heck yes.

    Sometimes this goes too far and flips around on itself, especially when no one- not even those epileptic who do feel slighted- are even on this issue except those with the “greater” conscience.


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