The most important rule to remember during brainstorming sessions is to focus on quantity rather than quality. The more ideas you have, the more likely it is that one of them will be worth pursuing. Therefore, it’s important that everyone in the group refrain from critiquing ideas during the brainstorming session, since the only truly bad idea is no idea at all.
Of course, not every brainstorming session will go off without a hitch. Some common brainstorming challenges include:
- Unbalanced conversations, sometimes due to extroverts dominating discussions
- The anchoring effect, meaning brainstormers cling to the first few ideas shared and don’t move on to others
- Awkward silences, which often occur when participants are not prepared
Maybe you have been in some of these not fun brainstorming meetings before. Gladly, there are many successful, and also different, brainstorming methods and equipment that address these exact problems.
The “J.K. Rowling” Brainstorm
Legend states that J.K. Rowling started her journey to writing the Harry Potter series by writing down ideas on paper napkins. Even if that isn’t true, it’s still a great way to write down ideas that are significant to you. You know how frustrating it is to write on a napkin? It’s not a great surface. Which makes whatever you write on it all the more special. Go to a diner, get a cup of coffee, and try it out.
Write with your non-dominant hand
I learned this exercise in college while taking a poetry class. The exercise is designed to emphasizing the importance of minimalism. We were instructed to write poems with our non-dominant hand. The result is that you get so frustrated by how slow (and sloppy) you are writing that you actually subconsciously delete words for the sake of getting to the heart of what you actually want to say. This results in a very short and yet provocative piece. You can try this with anything.
Once you have focused on a single idea, use the starbursting technique for visual brainstorming. Each point will represent a question:
Before answering a question, think about how it relates to your idea. For example, if you are asked ‘Who will want to buy this product?’ you should consider what potential customers might want and need from the product. This will help you to foresee any problems that could occur.
The five whys, a.k.a. why analysis
The five whys technique is a helpful way to evaluate the strength of an idea. By asking “why” questions about a topic or idea at least five times, you can surface new problems and find ways to address them. This brainstorming technique can be used with a flowchart or fishbone diagram to help organize your thoughts.
You may be familiar with SWOT analysis in relation to strategic planning, but you may be surprised to know that this concept can also be used as a brainstorming exercise to help evaluate an idea. Discuss the following aspects of your topic to determine whether it’s worth executing:
- Strengths: how does the idea dominate or stand out from competitors?
- Weakness: are there any flaws in the idea that could jeopardize its execution?
- Opportunities: what else can you capitalize on based on this idea?
- Threats: what are potential downfalls that could arise if the idea is launched?
How Now Wow
The How Now Wow brainstorming technique is all about categorizing ideas based on how unique they are and how easy they are to implement. Once you’ve collected several ideas, either individually or from team members, talk through where they fall in the How Now Wow spectrum:
- How ideas are ideas that are original but not executable.
- Now ideas are unoriginal ideas that are easily executable.
- Wow ideas are never-been-pitched before ideas that are also easy to implement.
Having a lot of “Wow” ideas is good because you can actually do them, and also because they might make you stand out from your competition or break up the boredom in a company. To help organize your ideas, you could use a matrix with four squares. The Y-axis would be how difficult the idea is, and the X-axis would be how innovative it is.
Draw what you want to say
Drawing instead of writing can help communicate your message more effectively, especially if you are not an illustrator. Try drawing your idea out instead of writing it, and the words will almost magically appear.
Go for a walk with a pen
If carrying a notebook around sometimes leads to feeling like you have to write down everything that comes to mind, then having only a pen with your tablet will make you more mindful of what you choose to write. Choosing simplicity and quality over quantity often leads to the best results.
Brainstorm in front of an audience
You can use your friends as resources when you are struggling with an idea. Invite them over, sit down with a whiteboard, and explain what you are thinking. You will probably realize the answer yourself by the time you are done explaining the challenge.
Create it in a completely different format
I often find it helpful to write stories through music as a way to improve my composition skills. This also helps me to understand the underlying emotions of what I’m writing about. Since music is a language, this can be a very effective way of communicating my ideas.
This brainstorming technique is used to analyze the drivers, or underlying causes, of a problem. To use it, keep asking yourself or your team “What’s driving [the problem]?” and then “What’s driving [the answer to the previous question]?” The more you dig into a problem, the more confident you will be in executing solutions for it.
Gap filling, a.k.a. gap analysis
Then, add in the gaps that stand between the two. If you are having trouble executing an idea, gap filling can help you overcome the obstacles in your way. To start, identify where you are and where you want to be. For example, you might say “Our company creates smartwatches; we want to expand our portfolio to also include fitness trackers.” Next, identify the gaps that exist between these two statements.
Write out your goals, preferred outcomes, and potential obstacles on a large piece of paper or whiteboard. Using a flowchart or mind map can help make this task easier. Then, have your group brainstorm solutions for each obstacle. At the end of the session, you should have a better idea of how to achieve your objectives.
Brainwriting, a.k.a. slip writing
Brainwriting is a brainstorming technique that requires every brainstormer to write down three ideas on three separate slips of paper. Then everyone passes their ideas to the right or left and their neighbor builds on those ideas, adding bullet points and considerations.
Each person at the table writes down an idea on a slip of paper and passes it to the person next to them. This continues until all the slips of paper have been passed around the table. The facilitator then looks through all the ideas and decides which ones are worth pursuing, or the brainstormers can discuss each idea out loud and decide together. Tip: it’s best to limit this technique to 10 people or less to avoid being overwhelmed with ideas or running out of time.
The SCAMPER brainstorming technique encourages brainstormers to look at an idea from different angles and it uses its acronym to inspire each lens:
- Substitute: consider what would happen if you swapped one facet of a solution for another.
- Combine: consider what would happen if you combined one facet of a solution with another.
- Adapt: consider how you could adapt an idea or solution in a new context.
- Modify: consider how you can modify an idea to make it higher impact.
- Put to another use: consider how else you could leverage your idea.
- Eliminate: consider what you could remove from the idea or solution so that it’s simplified.
- Reverse effective: finally, consider how you could reorganize an idea to make it most effective.
Brainstorming in a group can be more effective when using templates to track responses or by using the SCAMPER method in conjunction with brainwriting. This allows all participants to consider ideas from all perspectives.
Six thinking hats
This brainstorming technique, called ” six hats thinking,” requires participants to look at an idea from six different angles, each represented by a different color “hat.” For instance, one person might be asked to look at the idea from an emotional angle (wearing a red “hat”), while another looks at it from a logical angle (wearing a white “hat”).
You can select which angles are most relevant to your organization. By the end of the group discussion, the whole brainstorming group should feel confident about the ideas you’ll pursue.
This brainstorming technique asks you to consider what a famous or prominent figure would do in your situation. You take on their identity and think about how they would approach the problem.
Be a devil’s advocate. This helps teams look at a topic from a different perspective and, in the case of group brainstorms, reduces any nervousness that brainstormers will have about putting out bad ideas. Because they’re not putting out their own ideas—they’re sharing someone else’s. So go ahead and give yourself a new job title for the day. Be a devil’s advocate.
Reverse brainstorming is a brainstorming technique that starts with brainstorming problems first, followed by solutions. This technique is often used to encourage brainstormers to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions.
Your team will be able to come up with better solutions to problems once they have listed the causes.
This brainstorming technique is ideal for medium-sized groups of five to 15 people. It prevents ideas from being influenced by the loudest brainstormers of a group.
A brainstorming facilitator guides a group through a brainstorming session by topic. After introducing the topic, they ask all but two participants to leave the room. The remaining two participants discuss their ideas for a few minutes before one is invited back in to share their ideas. The original two participants then share their ideas.
Breakout groups are brought back into the room one at a time, with each new group sharing their ideas with the rest of the group before moving on to the next group. Once all the groups are back in the room, it’s time to discuss the ideas they’ve built together, step by step.
The crazy eights brainstorming technique is a quick and fun way to generate a lot of ideas. Brainstormers have eight minutes to sketch out eight ideas using a template with eight boxes. Then the group discusses their ideas.
If you have a larger group, have each person brainstorm three ideas and give them six minutes to sketch them out in more detail.
Eidetic image method
The eidetic image method begins with group members all closing their eyes and focusing on what they want to achieve. For example, if a company is trying to design a new smartwatch, the facilitator would encourage everyone to close their eyes and think about what smartwatches look like now.
The group would then discuss and close their eyes once more, quietly imagining new features to add to the device. They would all open their eyes and discuss again, essentially layering on the possibilities for enhancing a product. This brainstorming technique is ideal for revamping or building on an existing product or solution.
Brainstorm every idea that couldn’t possibly work
If everyone in your meeting is trying to come up with the best ideas, and you’re struggling to think of any, try going in the opposite direction. Write down anything and everything that you think wouldn’t work. It might seem strange, but this often leads to an obvious and brilliant solution that could actually work.
The rapid ideation brainstorming technique is a great way for teams to generate a lot of ideas in a short amount of time. This technique can be done by having brainstormers shout out ideas to a facilitator or write them on a piece of paper. You might find that some of the same ideas keep popping up, which likely means those are worth pursuing.