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?
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.
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:
- Choose 3-8 brainstorming partners.
- Sit in a circle.
- Put all distractions away, except for a recording device.
- Provide a starter idea.
- Pass a “speaking stick” counterclockwise, allowing only the holder to speak.
- Use the “yes, and” technique to build off each response.
- 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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
- 12 Brainstorming Techniques That Will Blow Your Mind
- 15 Best Brainstorming And Mind-Mapping Tech Tools For Every Creative Mind
- Tips For Personal Brainstorming
Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com
|||^||National Center for Biotechnology Information: Action’s influence on thought: The case of gesture|
|||^||Pediatric Exercise Science: Physical Activity Problem-Solving Inventory for Adolescents: Development and Initial Validation|
|||^||LinkedIn: Brainstorming Over Beers – Does Alcohol Fuel Creativity?|