The Campfire Principle is Reflected in Group Brainstorming

by Elizabeth Dukes on April 14, 2015

In the late 1940’s, Alex Osborn, partner in the innovative advertising firm B.B.D.O., wrote “Your Creative Power,” sharing the creative secrets behind his company’s success. His promise- that those following the advice he’d laid out in his book would experience the inspiration needed to jump-start their professional and personal health. The most widely adopted ideas came from Chapter 33, “How to Organize a Squad to Create Ideas,” in which he encouraged colleagues to work together for brainstorming sessions.

Osborn attributed brainstorming, defined as “using the brain to storm a creative problem—and doing so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective,” as the strategy that defined his company’sBrainstorming is one of the most widely used business tools in practice today. success. Much like the campfire principle the cowboys adopted long ago, the concept behind such strategy is maintaining a safe environment in which participants are encouraged to share their ideas, free of negative criticism. When people enter the conference room, they have entered a safe zone, where new ideas and concepts are shared freely, without fear of saying the wrong thing. At the end of the session, you might only have one solid idea and fifty throw-aways. Before you trash those throw-aways, a more careful examination is necessary, as they may all come together into the most innovative idea yet. Despite criticism throughout the years, Osborn’s brainstorming philosophy is still one of the most widely used business tools in practice today.

Why You Should Gather Around the Campfire

Since its introduction as a workplace tool, brainstorming has had its fair share of criticism. It has been argued that, when conceptualizing on one’s own, we are free of any roadblocks, negativity, and egos, allowing for a more steady flow of creativity. You will likely not, however, develop ideas as fully when brainstorming on your own, as you do not have the advantage of the experience and knowledge of other colleagues. “Another advantage of group brainstorming is that it helps everyone involved to feel that they’ve contributed to the end solution, and it reminds people that other people have creative ideas to offer. What’s more, brainstorming is fun, and it can be great for team-building!” – Washington EDU  But what, exactly, can you do as the leader to ensure your team’s campfire sessions lead to innovative ideas?

Effective Campfire Sessions Require a Solid Leader

The most effective campfire sessions require a solid team leader who fosters a creative workplace environment in which team members are able to brainstorm both individually and as a team. You can set your workforce up for success by following these expert tips:

  • Set aside a proper meeting space. One that is casual enough for the team to feel comfortable with each other, but set up with the proper tools to maintain that professional tone.
  • Make sure everything in the session is recorded. Use whiteboards, flip charts, notepads, or computers; just make sure everything is documented by one person and that each member of the team has access to the information.
  • As their leader, it is your job to know and understand each member of your team and their individual work styles. If some don’t feel 100% comfortable in this setting, consider a warm-up session to break the ice.
  • Make sure the objectives of the meeting are clearly understood and that the goal is to promote as many ideas as possible.
  • Give everyone enough time, either at the start of the meeting or before it starts, to individually brainstorm.
  • Make sure everyone has ample opportunity to speak.
  • Set up clear guidelines as to what is expected. Make sure everyone is on the same page in understanding that each idea can, and should, be built upon. This is where good ideas, turn into great ones!
  • Encourage every member of the team to contribute, making it clear that this is a safe zone- while less than half of the ideas brought to the table will come to fruition, they will not be criticized. Negativity only stands to silence members of the team.
  • Take frequent breaks.

The Campfire Circle Should Stretch Beyond Your Workforce

To really get ahead in developing innovative ideas, your campfire circle should not be limited to just your workforce. Once a year, Preferred Office Products, a major office supply chain in Dallas, Texas, holds a customer appreciation day, in which they support the appropriately named “Campfire Story Principle.” Company founder and creator of this principle, Jim Miller, explains it best – “We all learn from each other. The customer sees the world from the order clerk’s perspective; the clerk gets to better understand the customer’s concerns. Everyone wins because everyone learns.” Clients and colleagues within the industry are encouraged to gather around the campfire, discussing concerns, needs, observations, and ideas. Everyone feels a part of something special, a part of the process. Remember, when people feel valued, they add value.

The cowboys of the Wild West were the first to adopt the campfire principle successfully, taking the needs, thoughts, and ideas of every member of the team into consideration. While each team member had their individual jobs, they were equal once they gathered around the fire for a session. This is where innovative ideas were born – ideas assured their very survival, as well as helped make our great nation what it is today. The iOffice team takes this principle very seriously, as our team brainstorms with each other, our clients, and other partners within the industry.


Elizabeth Dukes

Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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