Alex F. Osborn

The Father of Brainstorming

Alexander Faickney Osborn was “born in the Bronx, New York, on May 24, 1888” (“Alex F. Osborn,” 1966, p. 47). He attended Hamilton College where he was awarded Ph.B. and Ph.M. degrees in 1909 and 1921 respectively (Chae, 1997c). Osborn’s employment career began with jobs in newspaper reporting with both the Buffalo Times and Buffalo Express; the assistant secretary for the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce; sales manager of the Hard Manufacturing Co.; and began his renowned advertising career with the E. P. Remington agency of Buffalo. “During World War I, he worked as a volunteer for the United War Work campaign and there met another young writer, Bruce Barton” (“Alex F. Osborn,” 1966, p. 47).

Osborn joined the advertising agency of Barton & Durstine in August of 1919 with an understanding that he would work primarily out of Buffalo; and the agency would become known as Barton, Durstine & Osborn (“Alex F. Osborn,” 1966; “BBDO,” 1997a). In 1928, Barton, Durstine and Osborn merged with the George Batten firm and would become known as Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn (BBD&O) (“Alex F. Osborn,” 1966). Osborn became general manager of BBD&O in 1939 and went on to become its chairman, then vice chairman until his retirement in 1960. He served as a trustee for Western Savings Bank and Hamilton College (“Alex F. Osborn,” 1966), and as a council member for the University of Buffalo from 1951-1959 (University Archives – State University of New York at Buffalo, 1998). Mr. Osborn died of cancer in Roswell Park Memorial Institute on May 5, 1966, at the age of 77 (“Alex F. Osborn,” 1966).

Creativity Theorist

Osborn became increasingly active as an author, and published several books on creative thinking. In 1942, How To Think Up was published, in which Osborn presented the technique of Brainstorming, which had been used at BBDO. Eventually, Osborn's writing career overtook his work in advertising, and in 1960, after more than forty years, he resigned from BBDO’s board of directors.

In 1954, Osborn created the Creative Education Foundation, which was sustained by the royalties earned from his books. Along with Sidney Parnes, [Dr. Sidney J. Parnes is a retired professor at Buffalo State College (located in Buffalo, New York) and the co-founder of the International Center for Studies in Creativity.]

Osborn developed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process (commonly referred to as CPS). He co-founded the Creative Education Foundation's Creative Problem Solving Institute, the world's longest-running international creativity conference, and CPS has been taught at that conference as well as year-round in other venues for more than 50 years.