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Published on April 6, 2021

How To Brainstorm Ideas More Creatively And Effectively

How To Brainstorm Ideas More Creatively And Effectively

Do you continually look for ways and means to do things better but find yourself in a shortage of ideas? As humans, we are continually evolving and looking for ways to do what we do more efficiently—to yield the same or higher output with lesser inputs in time, resources, and effort. One way to do this is to wait for the Eureka! moment and inspiration to strike. But that is far-fetched and requires a lot of waiting around to take small steps ahead.

However, putting in place a structure for ideation can come in handy for those looking to take giant leaps forward. And that’s where brainstorming ideas can help.

Let’s have a look at how to brainstorm ideas more creatively and effectively. But before that, let’s dive deeper into understanding brainstorming.

What Is Brainstorming?

Brainstorming is an excellent tool for ideation, out-of-the-box thinking, and creative problem solving without criticism or judgment.

Meriam Webster’s dictionary defines brainstorming as “a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group; the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem.”[1]

Three things stand out here:

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  1. Spontaneous contribution – Brainstorming allows individuals to share crazy, far-fetched, out of the box half-baked ideas. It does not have to be thoroughly thought out yet at the ideation stage.
  2. All members – Brainstorming is a technique where taking in diverse opinions can improve ideating offbeat solutions.
  3. Find a solution to a problem – It is fundamentally goal-oriented towards one thing—solving the issue at hand. Without a clear problem statement, brainstorming ideas will not yield effective results.

Broadly speaking, brainstorming is synonymous with the idea-generating process that creatively solves problems.

You Can Brainstorm Ideas on Your Own

It is common to think that brainstorming is effective only in groups and cannot be done individually. However, that is not entirely true. Studies have shown that although both approaches have their pros and cons in catalyzing idea generation, people are more creative when they brainstorm on their own than in groups.[2]

Individually, one is empowered to flexibly work at their pace and drive idea generation. They can set their own time and place and ideate when one is at their creative best. Additionally, there is no fear of judgment when brainstorming individually.

On the other hand, group brainstorming holds a sacred place in innovating in workplaces. Here, you can take advantage of the diverse experience, perspectives, and creativity of all team members to ideate and develop offbeat solutions that offer outstanding results.

Is Brainstorming Effective?

Brainstorming delivers tremendous value, from providing innovative and offbeat ideas that would have never occurred in the ordinary course of work to building a culture of collaboration and team spirit. Here are some reasons why brainstorming is effective and beneficial.

1. Goes Beyond Creative Blocks

Brainstorming ideas can help individuals and teams move forward when they find themselves creatively stuck. Inspiration is hard to come by, and brainstorming is an excellent approach to access on-demand creativity without the pressure of getting it right the first time.

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2. Encourages Divergent Thinking

By leaving no idea behind, brainstorming can help explore diverse ideas and alternatives to grow. Brainstorming ideas offers a judgment-free space to think of as many possibilities as you can until you’re convinced of the way forward.

3. Supports Team Building

Compared to other techniques, you create a relaxed and informal ambiance to brainstorm ideas that encourage open participation among team members. People are offered the space to share their opinion and points of view without fear of judgment, strengthening the camaraderie among team members. Frequent brainstorming sessions instill the spirit of collaboration and help teams to rely on each other’s strengths to deliver improved results.

How Does It Work?

Brainstorming ideas involves 4 crucial stages:

  1. Identifying the central problem or goal: This stage defines the critical purpose for brainstorming ideas.
  2. Idea Generation: An avenue permitting free-flowing generation of ideas.
  3. Developing the idea: Deep dive into the ideas produced and build upon them.
  4. Idea evaluation: Evaluating the top ideas towards its efficacy in solving the central goal or issue.

The process is structured to allow consideration of varied ideas objectively to achieve the solution to the critical problem at hand.

ProTips to Brainstorm Ideas Effectively

Here are a few #ProTips to brainstorm ideas creatively and effectively.

  • Welcome wild ideas: Make sure you encourage offbeat and non-linear ideas. The more diverse the ideas produced in the ideation stage, the better it is to allow for innovative solutions to come forth.
  • Plan ahead: Allow people to think by themselves before the brainstorming session. This tip ensures that people are allowed sufficient time to mull over the problem statement and come prepared to ideate on tackling the issue.
  • Goal-tending: As you navigate the ideation stage, focus on the central goal or problem. It is natural to stray away while opening up the forum for ideas. So, it is essential to remind the teams on the problem statement to keep the discussions relevant and identify the best solution.
  • Record everything: Record all ideas, not just the good ones. This rule is fundamental to capture all probable ideas in the ideation stage. Make sure that every single idea generated is systematically captured regardless of how useful it is. Additionally, permit one conversation at a time to ensure all thoughts are given consideration and are not missed out in parallel discussions.
  • Judgement-free: Creating a no-judgment space encourages people to speak up and express their opinions freely. Keeping judgments aside can help continue the flow of ideas and encourage teams to build and develop each other’s thought processes. One idea could spark another, leading to much more effective solutions.
  • Defer evaluation: Refrain from evaluating ideas in the ideation stage. Hold the assessments till the evaluation stage for the best results. All ideas hold some potential so enforce the no assessment rule until all the ideas are captured, tabled, and developed. Alex Osborn, who conceptualized the brainstorming technique, recommends “defer judgment” as the golden rule to brainstorm effectively.[3]

How to Use Brainstorming Effectively on Your Own

Here are a few tips for brainstorming ideas effectively on your own:

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1. Ground Yourself

Make sure to ground yourself by meditating or practicing any other mindfulness technique to ensure your entire presence before brainstorming. You could also choose a time and place when you’re most active and energetic for the best results.

2. Minimize Distractions

Choose a time where you can focus entirely on brainstorming ideas for the problem at hand. Minimize distractions and create space for paying 100% attention in ideating solutions.

3. Go Wild

Individual Brainstorming does not have worries about other’s judgment and offers a safe space to ideate as many crazy or wild ideas as they come. There’s no worry about egos or team dynamics either. So, the brainstorming can be focused on solving the core issue.

4. Use Mind maps

To keep the chain of thought as you brainstorm ideas, you can use mind maps to arrange, assimilate, and develop concepts further. Word association, prompts, or even visual cues can come in handy to ideate across the spectrum.

5. Take a Break Before Evaluating

Don’t go into assessments and evaluations right after you ideate. Take a break. Do something completely different before you consider the ideas to be objective and unbiased. Keep the overarching goal in mind to filter the best possible outcomes. You could also narrow it down to the top 2 to 3 ideas and run it past your mentors or colleagues to get unbiased opinions from trustworthy sources.

How to Use Brainstorming Effectively in a Group

Here are a few tips for brainstorming ideas effectively in a group:

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1. Diversity

Form groups across functions to bring in different perspectives as you brainstorm together. Ensure that the individuals chosen are equally vested and aligned towards the shared goal to achieve maximum results. You could also brainstorm with a complete outsider to get a fresh perspective on a problem that you’ve been stuck with for a long time.

2. 6-3-5 Technique

You can adapt the 6 people coming up with 3 ideas every 5 minutes to keep the ideation momentum going. You can get over 100 ideas in 30 minutes using this approach.

3. Challenge Bad Ideas

Ask team members to write down the craziest and most ludicrous ways to solve the problem. Then challenge other team members to make changes to flip a bad idea into a good one.

Final Thoughts

Brainstorming ideas is an excellent way to creatively identify the best way forward. It provides structure to unstructured thinking and delivers immense value to individuals and organizations to think beyond the conventional norms. Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ve picked up a thing or two to help you brainstorm ideas effectively.

Featured photo credit: Leon via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: brainstorming
[2] MindTools: Brainstorming
[3] The Heart of Innovation: Why You Need to Defer Judgment During the Ideation Phase of a Brainstorming Session

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Shwetha Sivaraman

Entrepreneur, Podcaster, & Life Coach @BeingMeraklis

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Published on March 30, 2021

How To Adapt Flexible Thinking Strategies To Solve Problems

How To Adapt Flexible Thinking Strategies To Solve Problems

Problems—by their nature—disrupt our current path. They put a roadblock right in the middle of the way we’re doing things. We’re productively doing work until our computer breaks. Or our relationship is running smoothly until there’s a big fight. Or our day is going well until twice the work gets dumped on us. Problems sideline our plans and can make us feel like we’re backed into a corner with only two options—either push harder with what we were doing, which requires flexible thinking, or completely retreat and give up.

In our world today, the roadblocks are only increasing. According to Leonard Mlodinow, author of the bestselling book Elastic: Unlocking Your Brain’s Ability to Embrace Change, everything from technology to politics to cultural norms is changing at lightning speed.[1] The way we used to do things may be hitting roadblocks left and right.

So, elastic or flexible thinking is one of the most important skills in our modern era. To solve problems, we need to be more flexible in the way we think about situations.

What if there are more than two options for every problem? What if, instead of running into the wall or retreating, we could go around the wall? Or climb above it? Or get people to help us move it?

No matter what problem you’re facing in life, flexible thinking can give you a wider lens on the situation and come up with creative solutions that still meet your goals, even when problems arise.

Here are five ways you can adapt flexible thinking strategies to solve your problems.

1. Focus on the Overarching Goal

Thinking becomes narrow and rigid the more specific we get. If we’re focused on the tactics or how to solve a problem, we narrow our lens and block out a lot of more effective and more creative solutions.

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The trouble is that most of us confuse our goals, our strategies, and our tactics. And that confusion keeps us stuck.

  • Goals are “why” we are doing this in the first place—the ultimate thing we want to get
  • Strategies are “what” we’re going to do to get that goal
  • Tactics are “how,” specifically, we’re going to take action to accomplish the strategy and get the goal.

For example, let’s say I want to get a promotion at work. I’m really clear that it’s a top-level goal that feels important to me.

So, I come up with a whole bunch of strategies, including demonstrating my performance to my boss, taking on more leadership roles, and networking with other leaders in the company. Some specific tactics I might take to demonstrate my performance might be sending my boss quantitative reports on the impact of my work and taking on a few more projects.

But what if one of those projects falls through or fails? It may seem like a big problem, but if I keep the overarching goal in mind, I can realize there are endless ways to get a promotion. And I can go back to other tactics to demonstrate my performance—or even other strategies, like networking with other leaders in the company.

The opposite of flexible thinking is rigid, narrow thinking where we get obsessed with the one way or tactic to accomplish our goals.

But if we can clarify what the overarching goal is—why we’re doing that tactic—then we widen our scope to see the bigger picture and can usually come up with new strategies or tactics that still help us accomplish our goal.

There are many paths to every goal we have, no matter what it is. So, if we feel stuck in any way, chances are our thinking has become really narrow, and we need to focus back on the overarching goal.

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2. Take Your Mind Off of It

Albert Einstein, one of the most creative and flexible thinkers out there, was known for a very unique process of thinking. He would think critically for long periods of time, and then he would take time off to play violin and not think about his work at all. Somehow, when he went back to his work, he’d be able to connect dots he couldn’t have seen before.

Einstein called this process “combinatory play”—essentially combining some unrelated skills that allowed one part of the brain to rest and form connections while you were doing something different and activating a different part of the brain.[2]

And Einstein wasn’t the only genius who valued taking their mind off a problem to come up with a solution. Nobel Prize-winning scientists are 2.85 times more likely than the average scientist to have an artistic or crafty hobby.[3]

So, when you’re stuck with a problem and just can’t find a way around it, take some time off to try something else—especially something you’re passionate about. The rest time may allow your brain to form new connections and think more flexibly about the situation so you can come up with a creative solution.

3. Look to Outside Sources for Inspiration

Most of our decisions are made from a narrow lens of the examples all around us—whether it’s how our parents did things, the “industry standard” in our field, or our past patterns and behaviors. So, if our usual solutions aren’t working for a current problem, it’s time to widen our lens and look outside a little bit.

In the book Blue Ocean Strategy, authors Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim advocate for creating “uncontested markets” by looking outside of a business’ industry to draw inspiration from unorthodox places.[4]

For example, Cirque du Soleil solved the problem of the dying circus industry by drawing inspiration from Broadway plays and Las Vegas performances with dramatic lighting, music, and themes, alongside sleek and sophisticated branding. While almost nobody would pay $100 to see a traveling circus, Cirque du Soleil tickets are regularly sold at that price point.

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But drawing outside inspiration for flexible thinking isn’t just reserved for the world of business. New workout routines are created by combining dance and aerobics. New diets are discovered by studying different cultures.

In newly every facet of life, the solution to rigid, narrow thinking is taking a look outside the current norms and standards to draw inspiration from what others are doing—and then combining things flexibly or creatively.

4. Journal or Brainstorm Your Ideas

When we’re looking for the solution to a problem right in front of us, we tend to pare down choices to the most logical and familiar ones. But if we’re trying to engage in more creative and flexible thinking, then we actually want ideas that aren’t our normal, tried-and-true.

Journaling and brainstorming take the pressure off from finding the one perfect solution because we’re no longer in critical thinking or analysis mode. We’re in pure ideation mode, just accessing the unfettered creativity. And that means we’re pretty going to get a lot of duds, but we’re also going to get a lot of creative, flexible thinking that doesn’t happen when the pressure is on.

Pressure creates narrow, rigid ideas because we can’t take risks or contemplate something new if we feel we only have one option. But when we give ourselves space to explore hundreds of options, chances are we’re going to open up to new ideas and new inspiration.

And research backs up that journaling can unlock right-brained creativity and intuition that we wouldn’t have accessed otherwise.[5]

So, next time you’re stuck on a big problem, pull out your journal and just start writing about the challenge and potential solutions for 30 minutes. You’re likely to be shocked by the creative, flexible insights and ideas you come up with.

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5. Bring in Diverse Voices and Perspectives

If we want to change our narrow thinking, we have to widen the network of who we’re talking to and getting support from.

We all have different experiences—and, therefore, different perspectives based on those experiences. A lawyer is likely to look at a problem one way, whereas an engineer is likely to look at it an entirely different way. And that’s why diversity is so important. The more diverse your workplace, social circle, or community, the more flexible and creative your ideas will be—simply because you’re getting feedback from many different perspectives that you wouldn’t have recognized otherwise.

When you’re feeling stuck or like you can’t find a new way to solve a problem, consult with someone with a totally different voice. For example, if your sales team is having a problem at work, see what the marketing or product development departments think of it. Or if you’re struggling to communicate with your spouse, consider couple’s counseling with a therapist or clergy.

If we keep talking to the same people and spaces, we’re likely to begin to narrow our thinking and, therefore, have less flexible and creative ideas. But if our ideas are constantly being challenged or if we’re constantly introduced to new perspectives, we’re a lot more likely to become more flexible thinkers and find creative solutions we never would have discovered otherwise.

The Bottom Line

When we engage in flexible thinking, we can bend what previously felt like an immovable situation. Roadblocks and challenges actually become fodder for innovation and push us to become more creative. And instead of fearing “problems,” we can see them as opportunities to make things better—for ourselves, our families, our colleagues, our customers, or our communities.

By focusing on the overarching goal, (temporarily) taking our mind off the problem, looking to outside sources of inspiration, journaling and brainstorming, and bringing in diverse perspectives, we can become more flexible thinkers and solve most problems that come our way.

In our fast-paced, ever-changing world, flexible thinking is quickly becoming one of the most important and prized skills to possess. No matter what problems arise, you can handle them with ease if you’re just a little flexible and creative.

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Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

Reference

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