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Your Guide to Get Spinning in the Idea Tornado

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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!

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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31 thoughts on Your Guide to Get Spinning in the Idea Tornado

  1. Hi Tina
    Nice article – lots of good solid info.
    I wondered if your readers might be interested in some free mind mapping software to help them in brainstorming. It can be found here Free Mind.

    I definitely prefer to use a PC tool for mindmapping and brainstorming as I can move things around more easily and can see connections between items more readily. It also saves loads of time writing and re-writing.

    Hope this is helpful

  2. Fabulous article, Tina! I have been brainstorming a lot lately, to find new articles for my blog, and I have found that right before I am going to sleep, when I can only think about one thing at a time, I come up with my most creative ideas. I also am a big fan for setting time limits, because once you set a short one, you realize that you don’t really have enough time to keep going back and revising your ideas.

    Another great way to brainstorm is to look back at your memories. If you look at old books/pictures/CDs etc, you are bound to come up either with a new idea, or an idea your forgot a long time ago.

    Keep it up!


  3. All good ideas to get out of the brain slump, Tina! I have to add, though, that sometimes it’s just as productive to walk away, go have fun, get a good night’s sleep, and invite inspiration to strike. Sometimes we get so attached to an idea or how things “should” unfold that we gain a great deal of perspective when we take a few steps back.


  4. raj

    Many a times, we force ourselves into just the opposite kind of behaviour than you suggest for example being playful or just going wild, and this just shows intuition can be wrong at times, wht seems obvious is in-fact not the correct method! There’s no doubt your strategies work brilliantly instead of more traditional approaches! but one tends not to and tht’s where the just do it part comes in!! thanx again for a great post!!

  5. Michael Proctor

    Great article, lots of good ideas. One way that’s worked was to turn it into humor. Start making jokes about ‘it’ with a friend. One joke, (idea), spawns another. Try, ‘what is the worst that could happen. Exagerate it, shrink it.
    Thanks, Mike

  6. I like the Idea of solving the opposite problem then flipping it. It is very effective to re-shape a problem to see the solution clearer. That opposite flip is like that.

    When I’m painting, I have a mirror placed just right so that every now and then I can have a glance at the work in the mirror image. Because it is reversed, the problems show up easily. When you look at something for a long time — whether it’s a financial problem, or a painting — your mind shows you what you have become accustomed to, not necessarily what is, or what could be.

    Even using a thesaurus to rephrase the wording of a problem can stimulate new avenues of thought toward a solution. It’s another example of changing the view or presentation of the problem to see it in a new way.

    Put the problem on its head and something good might fall out of its pockets :-)


  7. Congratulations for your article! :)
    You are amazing as always!

  8. I’ve used the List of 100 technique a lot over the years. It’s fun and it gets down to the subconscious quickly. I also plant questions in my mind before going to bed and lie in bed in the morning enjoying whatever comes up. I’m a firm believer in moodling time…spending time “doing nothing”. That was the topic of today’s post at Cheerful Monk.

  9. Wow Tina… you do it again. Another infinitely valuable post! Bookmarked!

  10. Another way to eliminate the writers’ block is to switch the focus. Try to focus on something else for a while and then come back to your work. Our brain will work much better that way. :)

  11. This is a very useful article for me, seeing as of late I’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming – or at least I keep trying to

    thank you for the practical advice! :)


  12. sterling

    I love the 7th tip. Music really helps me get into the flow.

    Sometimes when I get stuck, I’ll plug related words into The results often lead me in an unexpected but productive path.

  13. I use some of these techniques when I’m writing poetry but the part about “not editing”, I’m still having some problems with that.

    I heard that you can shut out the editorial side of your mind by distracting it, for example with music, but I tend to write better when it’s really quiet.

    Maybe you can share some more effective ways of shutting out the editorial side… that would be really good. =)

  14. My best ideas come during, and just after, a good workout. Instead of jumping straight into the shower after exercising, often I will be madly scribbling notes. I feel sorry for anyone who happens to be around :)

  15. Hi Tina,
    great article!

    The one that helps me the most is mind-mapping, I like to use the free software called FreeMind. I really recommend this software, very user-friendly and very useful for my brainstorming. I used it a lot in my job as well, when I have to design and build a system from scratch.

    Mind-mapping is an organized way of brainstorming, something that seems very complex can be de-cluttered with mind-mapping.

    Few steps,
    1. list all the decisions/solutions we need to make,
    2. brainstorm all the options/steps as the sub-nodes,
    3. put all the pro and cons as the part of the options.
    And you will see clearly what you need to realize your idea.

    Hope it helps!

  16. Hi Tina,

    This is my first time reading your blog. It was recommended by my business partner. We’re working on a startup, which means a lot of brainstorming is involved in almost every aspect of our daily operations.

    When playing the marketer role, I can see all these tips working wonderfully. I’m excited to try some out and see how it works.

    I am still trying to find the best method when playing the art director and UI designer role and brainstorming the look and feel and usability for a page or specific function on a website. I end up getting caught in the “just do it” mentality and spending countless hours tinkering with positioning, , size and alignment.

    My process right now is as follows:
    – browse leading sites for inspiration
    – sketch a mockup of the function or page i’m designing for
    – dive into the html and css to develop the on-screen version

    Do you have any specific suggestions for this specific scenario?

    thanks for the great article!

  17. A good one is simply to suspend making “sense” for a few minutes. Speak in gibberish. Make strange sounds, but no words. Be completely silly. After a small amount of time in that space, there’s usually a lot less censorship.

    Loving Awareness : A Journey to Wholeness

  18. I think brainstorming on paper is the best way to release your imagination and get some great ideas happening. Because you don’t have to write in a straight line your ideas can be linked together in various ways that somehow seems to unlease your inner most thoughts and unheard of concepts.

  19. Great post! Being playful and maintaining the childish spirit (to an extent) has been so very important to the success of my more design-focused projects recently.

  20. Great post. Don’t forget that the brain doesn’t work well when it’s tired. Give it a rest, too.

  21. Wow, I going through a lot of your articles and every one is just as good as the last. I’m going to bookmark this site!

    My Diet & Health Blog,

  22. This view of brainstorming is 10% right and 90% wrong. The problem is, the 90% interferes with the 10%.
    The idea that there are two sides of the brain, and you have to turn off one and turn the other on to get creative ideas, was overturned in the late 90s by neuroscience.
    Here’s the 10% that’s right: build on existing ideas, relaxed environment.
    The worst of the 90% that’s wrong: define the result, be playful, set a time limit, don’t evaluate…

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