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Last Updated on May 6, 2020

18 Brainstorming Techniques for More Creative Ideas

18 Brainstorming Techniques for More Creative Ideas

Some brainstorming techniques work better than others. All of them, however, have the same goal: generate as many ideas as possible and as quickly as possible. Only then can you identify the ones worth pursuing.

In the abstract, throwing out ideas sounds easy. But without the structure provided by brainstorming techniques, it’s tough.

Say you’re trying to put together a grocery list. Give enough time, you could probably name over 1,000 foods. But because time is limited, you need to quickly get ideas out of your head and down on paper.

What are the best ways to do that?

Give these brainstorming techniques a try, and decide for yourself:

1. Set a Timer

Have you ever noticed that you work best under just the right amount of pressure?

Too much stress, and you’ll seize up; with just the right amount, you’ll come up with ideas more efficiently.

Even if you have all the time in the world to come up with a list of ideas, giving yourself a deadline is a great way to optimize your stress levels. Set a timer for 60 seconds, and start ideating.

If you need more ideas after the minute is up, do it again.

2. Create Competition

Unless you intend to brainstorm alone, why not add a little competition to your brainstorm? It’s a great way to create that “goldilocks” level of pressure — the goal of many of these brainstorming techniques.

Challenge your friends or colleagues: Who can come up with the longest list in 60 seconds?

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Don’t worry about quality: Quantity is what matters at this stage.

Peer recognition is enough of a prize for the winner.

3. Use Your Hands

When you’re trying to get ideas tumbling around in your head, try physically tumbling something in your hands. If you don’t have a stress ball handy, crumple a paper wad.

Actions and ideas are more connected than many people realize. Research suggests that simple hand gestures — to the left side of a sentence, for example — can help children grasp abstract concepts like subjects and predicates.[1]

4. Hit up the Headlines

The other day, I was struggling for startup topics that hadn’t been covered to death. For help, I called up Phil Stover, co-founder of Blue Skies Ventures.  He challenged me to spend 20 minutes scrolling through headlines, which sparked a surprising number of new ideas.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but the internet is full of it.

5. Do a Round Robin

Round robin is one of my favorite brainstorming techniques because it’s social and constructive. Instead of competing, you build off of one another’s ideas.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Choose 3-8 brainstorming partners.
  2. Sit in a circle.
  3. Put all distractions away, except for a recording device.
  4. Provide a starter idea.
  5. Pass a “speaking stick” counterclockwise, allowing only the holder to speak.
  6. Use the “yes, and” technique to build off each response.
  7. Hand the stick off once the speaker shares an idea.

6. Whiteboard It Out

There’s something about a whiteboard that makes a brainstorm feel “official,” isn’t there?

Although you could write ideas down on paper, try putting them on a whiteboard. That way, everyone can see and build off of existing ideas.

When it comes time to cut down your list of ideas, whiteboards make them easy to erase.

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7. Do Your Worst

If the members of your brainstorm are feeling a little too much pressure, challenge everyone to come up with the worst ideas they can. You’ll lighten the mood, and you might be surprised at just how usable some of the ideas are.

If nothing else, they’ll help you think outside the box — which is the whole point of these brainstorming techniques, after all.

8. Ask Google

Have you ever noticed that when you Google something, Google provides “People also ask” and “Searches related to” suggestions? Why not let Google do your brainstorming for you?

Simply search a couple of your best ideas and jot down Google’s recommendations. If you spot some ideas in the search results proper, great.

9. Rewrite Your List

When you’re truly stuck, coming up with new ideas can feel like trying to push toothpaste out of an empty tube. If that’s the case, pause.

Get a fresh sheet of paper, and copy over your existing ideas. Chances are, you’ll naturally come up with a couple more as you write.

What’s wrong with typing your ideas?

The simple act of handwriting promotes creativity. Writing by hand also increases retention, meaning you’ll have internalized your best ideas before it’s time to implement them.

10. Get Active

One of the best brainstorming techniques, if you get stuck, is to get some exercise. In a study of adolescents, physical activity was found to increase problem-solving skills.[2]

A writer on my team swears by this. Whenever he gets stuck on an article, he hops on his bike. Once he arrives at his new work location, he’s able to steamroll whatever he couldn’t seem to write his way past.

11. Take a Nap

If you’re feeling tired and fitness isn’t getting your brain back in gear, stop fighting it: Take a nap.

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Sleep acts as a reset switch for your brain, giving you a clean mental space for coming up with new ideas. The two key phases of sleep — REM and non-REM — work together to promote creative problem-solving.

12. Tweak Your Target

Sometimes, a simple frameshift can make all the difference. If you’ve tried multiple brainstorming techniques and can’t seem to come up with new ideas, try changing the topic.

Say you’re trying to come up with Halloween costumes for your kids. If all you can think about is werewolves and vampires, come up with a few variations on the theme. For example:

  • Cinco De Mayo costumes: Food-themed and Mexico-inspired costumes could work well, too.
  • Halloween costumes for adults: Costumes based on history, film, or literature are recognizable and unique.
  • Anti-Halloween costumes: Friendly, happy costumes are a nice parody on Halloween.

13. Grab a Drink

Alcohol shouldn’t be your constant brainstorming companion, but there’s nothing wrong with unwinding with the occasional drink. Because alcohol reduces inhibitions, it can help you unearth ideas that your subconscious self decided weren’t good enough.

Beware, though, that there’s a “sweet spot”. A University of Illinois study found participants with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.075 performed better than sober people on creative tasks.[3] Any more than a drink or two, though, and alcohol may dampen your cognitive abilities, making ideation more difficult.

14. Read a Book

Reading, particularly reading fiction, helps you put yourself in someone else’s shoes. That can help you see the concept you’re brainstorming around from new perspectives.

Brainstorming techniques like exercise and naps belong in this category: read a book if you get stuck; skip it if ideas are already flowing.

15. Play With a Pet

A recent trend among entrepreneurs is to allow pets in the office. Why?

Because having a cat or dog around can lower stress levels and create an “at home” environment.

A small amount of stress may be beneficial for brainstorming, but it’s critical that you feel comfortable in your space. Feeling judged or out of place can cause you to shut down. Brainstorming techniques should help you open up.

16. Delay Gratification

When you’re brainstorming, you might be tempted to grab a snack, listen to your favorite song, or kick back with a beer. Unless you’re treating those as brainstorming techniques, the better strategy might be to treat yourself following the brainstorm.

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Set a goal.

Perhaps if you can come up with 50 ideas in the next five minutes, you give yourself a treat. The promise of a reward will help you push out those final few ideas.

17. Go Virtual

Another technique to help your brainstorming partners feel comfortable in their space? Do it virtually through group conference calls. Videoconferencing tools like Google Hangouts are free.

I use a feature from Calendar called “Find a time” to automatically find times that work for brainstorming sessions for a group of people. I just click on who I want in the session and it will automatically crawl their schedules and make suggestions on the best times to meet.

18. Get Angry

Anger might sound like the absolute worst emotion if you want to have a productive brainstorm. Getting angry might be one of the better brainstorming techniques.

Anger is taxing, so it isn’t a long-term solution. But at the moment, anger is energizing and can produce unstructured thought processes.

Just don’t let yourself take it out on the other members of your brainstorm.

Final Thoughts

If coming up with new ideas were easy, there would be no reason to brainstorm at all.

Creative solutions require equally creative brainstorming techniques. Mix and match: you can set a timer, create competition, and enjoy a drink all at once.

Once the brainstorm is over, thank your partners. Brainstorming is hard work. If you can’t think of a creative way to do it, well, you’ve got a topic for your next session.

More Brainstorming Techniques

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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Kimberly Zhang

Kimberly Zhang is the Chief Editor of Under30CEO and has a passion for educating the next generation of leaders to be successful.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

  • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
  • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
  • Say no to all else.
  • Say no again.
  • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
  • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
  • Meditate.
  • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
  • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
  • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
  • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
  • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
  • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

Final Thoughts

These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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