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12 Brainstorming Techniques That Will Blow Your Mind

12 Brainstorming Techniques That Will Blow Your Mind

Brainstorming is the starting place of all good ideas. From “What should we do today?” to “What’s our next company logo going to be?” brainstorming is what gets you going. And although it’s so important, sometimes it can be seemingly impossible to think up new ideas. That’s where this list comes in. These are our favorite brainstorming techniques. Give them a try next time you have a meeting at work — your coworkers might just be impressed with your creative approach.

1. Do a SWOT analysis.

If you’re not familiar with this term, SWOT analyses are usually used by businesses to determine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a particular venture. SWOT analyses are helpful because the categories are predetermined for you, giving you the opportunity to simply identify all of the aspects of your problem and put them in one of the four spots.

2. Move to a new location.

That might sound like a pretty lame suggestion, but it really does help. Sometimes, a new environment can foster new ideas. So next time you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, gather everyone together and change venues. If it’s a nice day, go outside. The fresh air will get everyone’s creative juices flowing.

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3. Do anything else.

Seriously. Think about anything other than what you should be thinking about. Go for a run, take a shower, play a game. Often, we come up with our best ideas when we’re not even actively thinking about the problem at hand.

4. Have a rapid-fire round table discussion.

In a meeting, go around the room and have everyone say the first idea that comes to his or her mind, and then write it down. This puts people on the spot, which can be uncomfortable at first. However, often the simplest ideas are the best, and this gives everyone a chance to contribute without having much time to think about their answers.

5. Keep a notebook on you everywhere.

We often come up with good ideas at the worst possible times. If you make sure you always have a small notebook and pen or pencil on your person, you’ll be more able to jot down those good ideas and save them for when they’re really useful. Many people keep notepads and writing utensils by their beds, because they often brainstorm in their sleep.

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6. Round table writing exercise.

In a meeting, have everyone write down their ideas for a few minutes. Then trade sheets of paper, and expand on those ideas. This way, everyone contributes and is brainstorming, so the work doesn’t fall on one person. This is also a good strategy because with multiple people working on the same ideas, there are better odds that they’ll be useable down the road.

7. What would ______ do?

If you need a jolt of inspiration, look to who you admire most. Many people think of their heroes when facing tough issues. By asking yourself, “What would ______ do?” you might just find the answer to your problem.

8. Be someone else.

This exercise involves you trying to look at the problem through the eyes of another person. Ask yourself how you would approach the issue if you were a different gender, age, ethnicity, background, in a different position, etc.

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9. Live in another time.

I’ve mentioned several times now that often the simplest answers are the best. This technique allows you to explore that. Imagine you have the same issue that you do now, but it’s 100 years in the past. How would you handle it? Presumably, very differently than you would today. Use your brainstormed ideas from this exercise and then apply them to your modern-day situation.

10. Change your budget.

How would you tackle the problem if you had no money? What about if you had an endless supply of money? Use these ideas as ways to build upon an idea that fits into your budget in reality.

11. Add on to your ideas.

Compile a list of your best ideas. Expand on each one of them. Write all of this down and see what ideas seem to be panning out the best.

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12. Live in another place.

Think about how you would handle the problem if you lived in another country or another part of the world. This could drastically change your mindset, so give it a go! You might be surprised by how well you can translate your brainstormed ideas to fit your project.

Featured photo credit: Waag Society via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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