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Last Updated on December 11, 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

More by this author

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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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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