Your Guide to Get Spinning in the Idea Tornado
Have you ever felt mentally blocked from finding a solution to a problem you are facing? Most of us have had this experience, and it can be quite frustrating. Writers call it writer’s block, and the rest of us call it stumped, stymied, confused, etc. Brainstorming is one effective tool for helping to remove the mental roadblock and come up with ideas and solutions.
Brainstorming is a method of generating ideas that allows the brain to think freely and use both sides of the brain to ideally come up with creative solutions to difficult problems. Brainstorming can be used whether you’re sorting out a problem at work, coming up with your next business idea, or resolving a personal relationship issue. Brainstorming can help you hone in on the problem and come up with creative ways to approach it.
- Define the result. What is it you’d like to accomplish or figure out? Define the issue first, so you know what your target is. Define the problem as a measurable result rather than something vague and generic. Perhaps you want to answer a question, “What would I like to accomplish next year?” and you can define the result as “I want to be doing something that utilizes my graphic design and communications skills. I will feel fully engaged with my project and I will help at least 100 people. What are some projects I can work on?”
- Write it down. Brainstorm on paper (or digital device). I’ve found that the moment I write an idea down, not only do I have a record of this idea, but more ideas will start to flow my way.
- Suspend judgment. Brainstorming is a free flow of ideas. If you reject certain ideas because they seem improbable or crazy, you may miss something brilliant! Open your mind and let the stream of consciousness release all your thoughts; crazy, nonsensical or otherwise. Treat every idea like a gift, welcome everyone. This is especially when brainstorming in a group, do not shut down any idea, if it doesn’t work, move it on a separate sheet of paper.
- Don’t evaluate. At the same time, don’t evaluate the utility of an idea. Brainstorming is the stage where you come up with ideas. Evaluation happens later on. If you evaluate now, you slow down the process and block yourself from creativity.
- Go wild. The sky’s the limit, when it comes to brainstorming. The key is to come up with a wide range of ideas and solutions. Don’t limit your thoughts, no matter how crazy they sound. Each idea is a potential partial solution to your problem.
- Be playful. Make it fun. Brainstorming should not be tedious, boring, or too serious. Ideas flow better when you make it light-hearted and fun.
Methods for Effective Brainstorming
There are several ways and techniques to approach brainstorming. But no matter how you do it, you’ll probably get some surprising results. When I try too hard to come up with ideas, I generally tank. But when I allow my mind to do its own thing, the result is often magical. Here are a few of the brainstorming techniques to try:
1. Free-writing – This simple technique involves putting a pen to paper for a certain amount of time (usually 15 minutes), and writing nonstop until the time is up. The key is to continuously write whatever that comes out of your head without editing. At the end of the writing period, you may have written a few things like, “I don’t know what to write.” But by writing continuously without editing, you free yourself from your inner critic. You may come up with a brilliant idea or solution you hadn’t thought of before.
2. Listing – With this technique, you simply write down words, phrases, and ideas as they come to you, usually in list or bulleted form. The advantage of the list is that it is simple and it works for getting your thoughts written down.
3. Mindmapping – To mindmap, you simply write the main topic or problem in the middle of a page, and then quickly fill in the rest of the space on the page with ideas, topics, and words associated with the main idea. Once you’ve done that, simply draw lines between the ideas that are connected with each other. This technique is great for seeing patterns and links between ideas.
4. List of 100 – Litemind recently mentioned this technique on their blog. All you do is come up with 100 different ideas and solutions, but you must do it quickly. Because it’s a ridiculously high number of ideas, your mind is forced to quickly get creative.
5. Solve the opposite problem – One technique to get us out of feeling stuck when trying to solve a problem is to solve the opposite problem. Take each idea from solving the opposite problem, flip it and it’ll become an idea for the original problem. For example, we are trying to brainstorm for “The best cell phone design”, an idea for the opposite problem “The worst cell phone design” can be “impossible to program address book”. Now flipping the idea gives us “incredibly easy and intuitive to add new contacts into the address book”.
6. Build on existing ideas – Take existing ideas that have worked and add to them or mold them to fit the new problem. Building on top of successful solutions can help you come up with new, and often improved ideas. Using this technique keeps you from the blank page syndrome; staring at the blank page thinking you can’t give an idea because there are none in front of you. The existing solution gives a base and focus to your brainstorming.
Tips for Effective Brainstorming
1. Set a time limit. The idea behind this suggestion is that by giving yourself a deadline, you are forced to quickly come up with ideas.
2. Relaxed environment. Create an environment where you are at ease, peaceful and creative. Where do you feel at ease? A local café? Sitting in your living room? For me, I work best when sitting at my dining table, surrounded by candles, and playing Nawang Khechog or Shakuhachi Meditation Music in the background.
3. “Just Do It“. Dive in without thinking anymore of I can’t and just do. When I write articles for this blog, my initial reaction when facing a blank page is always, crap, I don’t know what to write. My trick is to just start writing anything that comes to mind without worrying about structure or formality. After several minutes or paragraphs, I’ll start to see the article idea take shape. Once I have a better idea of my topic and its main points, I go back to the beginning and start to write the article.
4. Word association. Allow yourself to come up with as many word associations as you can. You may be amazed to find that your mind can bring seemingly unconnected ideas together in interesting ways.
5. Capture ideas. Some techniques require you to capture your ideas in some way, and others do not. If you want to make sure you remember all the ideas, you can use paper, a blackboard or whiteboard, or your computer. I recommend pen and paper for its simplicity and low barrier to entry.
6. Bounce ideas. I’ve found it effective to bounce ideas with another like-minded person, or even brainstorming as a group with other people using above methods. Sometimes when two heads are working together, you result with synergetic ideas (better than what you could have come up with separately).
7. Get the Blood Flowing. When I’m at my table brainstorming, I like to be standing up. I sometimes dance to up-beat music because it brings me fully into this moment. When I’m sitting, I tend to relax easily which makes me tired and sleepy. When I’m standing and moving, my heart is pumping and blood is flowing, and this gives me energy for brainstorming.
Do you have any tips for effective brainstorming? When do you feel most creative? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments. See you there!