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Introducing “Thought Showers”

I’m pleased to introduce the term “thought shower,” created in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to replace the potentially offensive expression “brainstorming.”

According to Henry McDonald, Ireland editor of The Observer, the staff at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, in Belfast, found the word “brainstorming” potentially offensive to people with brain disorders. To indicate the creative generation of ideas, they prefer “thought showers.”

Whatever your view of this low-level language controversy, when communicating with friends in Belfast, take a quick “thought shower” to think up alternative words before attempting to brainstorm with them.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

5 comments on “Introducing “Thought Showers””

  • that is BS, “brainstorming” is not offensive, this is an urban myth.

    there is no scientific evidence, that the term is offensive.

  • Brainstorm or Thought Showers?

    Dear All,
    I have suffered uncontrolled partial epilepsy for almost forty years now and am a member of the British Epilepsy Association. Changing the wording mentioned, has been seen by us as offensive in itself!  Please read my recent posting on the Epilepsy forum website.
                The subject of changing the term ”Brainstorm” is not new.: “Thought Showers” have been mentioned before. When I initially saw the article in Epilepsy Today I truly thought it was a ‘wind-up’- (a joke)! It was a shock to find it wasn’t, and after seeing some of the responses on the forum I assumed, naively, that the idea had been dropped. That was until recently, when my neighbour told me he had only seen a story about it the day before!
                Does anyone actually know who originally came up with the idea, which can only waste a lot of time and money, spent better elsewhere? It is in my opinion an insult to those of us who suffer epilepsy, the very people it is said to be being changed for. Also, how on earth can you eliminate a word completely out of our language?
                Brainstorm and Brainstorming are just well recognised and used words that could theoretically be used out of context because they have more than one meaning. So what will be next? Maybe ‘heartthrob’ or ‘gutless’ and let us not forget all those words involving colour, like: Blacklist and whitewash.
                I would like to hear from the very person who initially decided that this change was necessary, but I suspect no single said person exists. I also think that the idea was probably put forward by legal bureaucrats having a brainstorm!
                Oh! – Sorry I should have said Thought  Showers!

  • Dear Michael,

    Thank you for sharing your informed, witty commentary on the “thought shower” controversy. The whole issue did seem silly to me. But at the same time, I want to pay attention to people’s legitimate gripes about insensitive language.

    I appreciated reading your perspective.


  • Hello,

    As an epileptic I find this whole idea ridiculous (and reserve the right to use the term brainstorm). General excessive PC ideas aside, could they have come up with a more insipid term for what should be a dynamic and energetic exchange of ideas?

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