Maximising Brainstorming and its Application in Intelligence Analysis

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Maximising Brainstorming and its Application in Intelligence Analysis

Brainstorming is a powerful tool. But, like all tools, it’s only as effective as how it’s used. Sheena Iyengar, a renowned researcher on choice, has shed light on optimising decision-making. Combining her insights with intelligence analysis can refine and amplify the brainstorming process.

The Paradox of Choice 

Iyengar’s research has consistently shown that while choice is essential, too much of it can be paralysing. It’s a world where intelligence analysis requires sifting through mountains of data. So, understanding the limits of choice is crucial and can be the key to success and failure. The first step, therefore, is to set clear boundaries and objectives before any brainstorming session. By narrowing the focus, participants won’t be overwhelmed, leading to more productive sessions.

The Achilles’ Heel of Brainstorming: Bias, Laziness, and Groupthink

Brainstorming should be a vibrant exercise. A place where diverse ideas flow, promising innovation and fresh perspectives. Yet, the reality of brainstorming often falls far short of this. And the results tend to be crap, and sometimes that goes unnoticed. 

Several factors rooted in human psychology play games with us. Our bias, laziness, and groupthink are prime culprits.


Bias is an ever-present shadow over brainstorming sessions. No matter how seasoned or open-minded, we carry a suitcase of biases. Some are obvious, others lurking subconsciously. Take confirmation bias, for instance. It tries to make us favour ideas that align with our pre-existing beliefs. The result? An echo chamber where only familiar ideas are welcomed. And those that challenge the norm are disregarded. When such biases dominate a brainstorming session, it ceases to be a platform for innovation. It becomes merely a reinforcing loop of existing thought processes. Especially if the leader is dominant.

Read More: Do You Believe You Have Numerous Strategic Choices Available to You? 


Laziness, often manifesting as mental inertia, is another challenge. The human brain, while remarkable, also constantly seeks efficiency. This means it usually prefers the path of least resistance. Participants refrain from delving deep into an unfamiliar or complex idea as it needs cognitive effort. Instead, they might lean towards easily comprehensible concepts or those that have been tried and tested. The fallout? Missed opportunities for breakthrough thoughts and a tendency to stay in the comfort zone. Also, most will sit back and let others get their ideas across. If it’s a boring subject, the ‘yeah that will do’ mentality comes into play. 


Lastly, groupthink is the silent saboteur of brainstorming dynamics. Groups tend to converge towards a single idea too quickly. Without critical examination or considering alternatives, they fall prey to groupthink. Common on Friday afternoons on an away day or the morning after a heavy night on the pop. The Harmony, especially in tightly-knit teams or cultures prioritising consensus, stifles dissenting voices. Over time, participants may self-censor or modify their ideas to align with the dominant narrative. Fearing isolation or ridicule. Brainstorming isn’t a melting pot of diverse ideas but a march towards mediocrity. In recognising these pitfalls, we come face to face with the inherent challenges of brainstorming. But with awareness comes the ability to navigate and counter these challenges. Ensuring that brainstorming remains a tool for genuine innovation.

Importance of Diverse Voices

Iyengar underscores the importance of seeking out diverse perspectives. Intelligence analysis means incorporating team members from various backgrounds, specialities, and experiences. A diverse group can approach problems from multiple angles. So ensuring a comprehensive understanding and innovative solutions.

Read More: Competitive Intelligence Analysis Thinking Needs to be Diverse and Rich

Structure over Randomness

One of the highlights of Iyengar’s work is the significance of structure. In brainstorming, this translates to having a transparent process in place. This could mean brainstorming for intelligence teams. From data collection to pattern recognition to scenario planning. A well-structured process ensures that ideas aren’t thrown out but are systematically processed and evaluated.

Embrace the Power of Constraints

Iyengar’s studies reveal that some constraints can enhance creativity. In intelligence analysis, setting constraints involves focusing on specific geographic regions, timeframes, or themes. Constraints help to hone in on particular issues. Pushing analysts to think deeply and creatively within set parameters.

Periodic Reflection

Post-brainstorming, it’s essential to reflect and refine. Iyengar suggests that periodic reflection helps us recognise our biases. Allowing us to re-evaluate choices and understand the implications of decisions. For intelligence analysts, this could mean revisiting the generated ideas. Then, assess their relevance and ensure they align with the larger objectives.

Incorporating Brainstorming into Intelligence Analysis

When done right, brainstorming can be an invaluable tool for intelligence analysis. Analysts are tasked with predicting and preparing for future scenarios based on current data. By incorporating Iyengar’s insights, these professionals can:

  • Narrow Down Data: Instead of being overwhelmed by vast amounts of data, analysts can zero in on the most pertinent pieces.
  • Innovate: A diverse team, working within set constraints, can develop novel solutions and approaches that a homogenous group might overlook.
  • Stay Objective: A structured brainstorming process ensures that analysts stay on track. Therefore, this reduces the chances of biases swaying decisions.

Conclusion, Maximising Brainstorming within intelligence analyss

The power of brainstorming isn’t just in the ideas it generates but in the process itself. Tapping into the thoughts described by Sheena Iyengar, we harness brainstorming’s full potential. So ensuring a more robust and effective outcome.

Maximising Brainstorming

In Think Bigger, Sheena Iyengar answers a timeless question with enormous implications for problems of all kinds: “How can I get my best ideas?” The black box of creativity is no longer a mystery for anyone looking to innovate. Think Bigger upends the myth that big ideas are reserved for a select few. By using this method as a guide to creative thinking, anybody can produce revolutionary ideas. 

We are not affiliated with Sheena, but here is her new book. Highly recommended.

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