Brainstorming is an essential process for creating and developing ideas, making projects more efficient, and maximizing our creative energy. When most of us think of brainstorming, we think of listing as many ideas as possible with no questioning or criticism and then sorting through the list. While this is the main process, there are many specific brainstorming strategies that are suitable for specific project styles and types of thinkers. Try out these effective brainstorming methods to help you come up with new ideas, analyze a project, or help a group reach a final conclusion. Methods for group brainstorming can be readapted to suit solo brainstorming and vice versa.
When it comes to thinking in a group, there are many challenges that arise with traditional brainstorming strategies of shouting out ideas willy-nilly. Outspoken, extraverted individuals are likely to dominate the discussion and limit the input of ideas from all team members. Additionally, the group may be strongly influenced by the first few ideas listed, stifling creativity and progress. Or, in the worst-case scenario, the group falls silent and doesn’t generate strong creative energy. These techniques can promote equality, creativity, and organization in a group brainstorming session:
In this method, rather than having a continuous verbal discussion, members of the group are asked to individually list their thoughts on the topic at hand. Then, everyone passes their written ideas to the person next to them, giving them the opportunity to build on those ideas, add commentary, or expand the details. Continue this process until everyone’s idea sheet has gone around the group, and then start a collaborative discussion. This helps to level the playing field for more introverted group members and converges all group members’ ideas.
This strategy promotes organized ideas and creates a clear picture of a project or challenge. As group members come up with ideas, they are organized on a whiteboard or paper and connected to new ideas. This method allows for the expansion of initial ideas into sub-ideas, can show a process of action, or can rate the importance of ideas.
Starbursting is an effective method for dissecting and expanding on an idea, such as a preferred project outcome or proposed product launch. The main idea goes in the center, surrounded by a six-pointed star, with each point labeled with a question: who, what, when, where, why, and how. This encourages the group to assess the project from a variety of perspectives or identify challenges and come up with solutions.
This method is similar to starbursting, in that it promotes elaboration on an idea and offers a variety of perspectives. Take an existing idea or project, and elaborate in the following ways:
- Substitute: Can something in the project be replaced or swapped for something else?
- Combine: Can aspects of the project be combined or simplified?
- Adapt: Can this project be used in a different context?
- Modify: What can we change about the project?
- Put to another use: How else can we use this project?
- Eliminate: Can something in the project be removed altogether?
- Reverse: How can we reorder this project?
As the name implies, in reverse brainstorming, rather than coming up with solutions, the group comes up with problems. Listing potential issues that could arise in a project then allows you to find solutions to those problems. This method is extremely effective for fleshing out a project idea and determining its potential success or downfalls.
Brainstorming alone can be a challenge. Often times we fall short of the perfect idea we were hoping for, or we simply can’t seem to sort out the mess of thoughts in our head. Use these techniques to promote creativity, ingenuity, and organization:
This method is great for verbal thinkers. Pull a list of words from a word bank or random work generator, and then draw associations of each of those terms to the topic at hand. You can also ask a colleague to generate random words so that they are potentially more related to the project. This often generates unique ideas from new perspectives.
This strategy expands on free association and allows you to organize your own ideas. Begin by listing as many words, phrases, or ideas as you can on the topic or problem at hand. Next, come up with categories or subjects to put each idea into. This helps to group related ideas together to visualize a process or chunks of thoughts. Online software such as Braincat assists in the word banking process, provides a visual mind map and can offer thought-provoking questions to give you new angles.
If you need to flesh out a business strategy or project concept, use SWOT to consider all possible angles. Create lists of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to the project. This method offers organized brainstorming, and the contradicting nature of the categories often leads to further idea expansion.