What’s the best way to brainstorm? While there are basic rules that make the process meaningful and effective, there are literally dozens of ways to actually inspire creative ideas. Many facilitators use more than one technique in a single brainstorming session in order to keep the creative juices flowing while supporting different styles of thought and expression.
Depending upon your situation, you may want to start with one of the unique approaches described below. Or… you may want to start with “basic brainstorming,” and then switch things up as needed to ensure you generate a good quantity of really useful, creative ideas.
Basic brainstorming is not complex—though there are important techniques for ensuring success. Here, in a nutshell, is how basic brainstorming works:
- Get a group of people together to address a problem, challenge, or opportunity
- Ask your group to generate as many ideas as possible—no matter how “off the wall” they may seem. During this period, no criticism is allowed.
- Review the ideas, select the most interesting, and then lead a discussion about how to combine, improve, and/or implement the ideas.
While this process may be simple in theory, however, it’s not always easy to generate new ideas out of nowhere. And that’s why so many interesting and inspirational brainstorming techniques have been developed.
Discover which techniques are the best fit for your next brainstorming session.
When brainstorming focuses on problem solving, it can be useful to analyze the problem with tools that lead to creative solutions. Analytic brainstorming is relatively easy for most people because it draws on idea generation skills they’ve already built in school and in the workplace. No one gets embarrassed when asked to analyze a situation!
1. Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is a visual tool for enhancing the brainstorming process. In essence, you’re drawing a picture of the relationships among and between ideas.
Start by writing down your goal or challenge, and ask participants to think of related issues. Layer by layer, add content to your map so that you can visually see how, for example, a problem with the telephone system is contributing to issues with quarterly income. Because it has become so popular, it’s easy to find mind mapping software online. The reality, though, is that a large piece of paper and a few markers can also do the job.
2. Reverse Brainstorming
Ordinary brainstorming asks participants to solve problems. Reverse brainstorming asks participants to come up with great ways to cause a problem. Start with the problem and ask “how could we cause this?” Once you have a list of great ways to create problems, you’re ready to start solving them! Learn about how to run a reverse brainstorming session:
3. Gap Filling
Start with a statement of where you are. Then write a statement of where you’d like to be. How can you fill in the gap to get to your goal? Your participants will respond with a wide range of answers from the general to the particular. Collect them all, and then organize them to develop a vision for action.
4. Drivers Analysis
Work with your group to discover the drivers behind the problem you’re addressing. What’s driving client loyalty down? What’s driving the competition? What’s driving a trend toward lower productivity? As you uncover the drivers, you begin to catch a glimpse of possible solutions.
Once ideas have been generated, it may be a good idea to come together in person, but it’s also possible that online idea generation and discussion will be successful on its own. This is an especially helpful approach for remote teams to utilize, though any team can make use of it. Learn more about this brainstorming technique: