How to brainstorm: 4 ways to get the creative juices flowing
Reading time: about 6 min
Posted by: Jennifer Jackson
How to brainstorm
- Focus on quantity
- Withhold criticism
- Welcome unusual ideas
- Combine and improve ideas
It’s often said that inspiration strikes when you least expect it, but that’s a rather inefficient way to drive innovation and creativity. Just think of a time when you, or a team you were on, needed to solve a particular problem. It could be something as simple as deciding on the theme for a company party or determining strategies to achieve your goals for this quarter. As soon as you begin thinking of ideas, your mind goes blank.
What you need is a strategy to help get those creative juices flowing. And brainstorming is your answer. Integrating brainstorming as a part of your problem-solving process promotes collaboration and innovative thinking, and it can bring the best ideas forth. Follow these four steps to know how to brainstorm ideas like a pro.
What is brainstorming?
Just as the name suggests, brainstorming is using one’s brain to storm a problem with a horde of creative solutions. It’s a technique used for idea generation and to spark creativity.
Typically individuals or teams will conduct a brainstorm at the beginning of projects as a way to find innovative solutions to current problems, but you can incorporate this technique whenever the need for new ideas arises.
While brainstorming is normally used in groups, it is also a great tool for individuals to use when working on personal goals and projects, such as deciding what to write about or your next craft project.
Understanding how to brainstorm makes it easy to:
- Consider all the possibilities.
- Foster collaboration.
- Avoid creative burnout.
- Gather outside perspectives.
- Build many ideas in a short amount of time.
- Drive creativity and innovation.
History of brainstorming
Brainstorming didn’t just happen overnight. Advertising executive Alex Osborn first coined the term in 1941 when he found that traditional business meetings weren’t the ideal setting to share new ideas. He wanted a way to give people the freedom to think outside of the box without fear of criticism.
There were two principles Osborn claimed improved “ideative efficacy”: avoid criticism and quantity over quality.
These principles led Osborn to establish the four rules of effective brainstorming: focus on quantity, withhold criticism, welcome unusual ideas, and combine and improve ideas. The intent of these rules was to foster a collaborative environment that promoted creative and ridiculous ideas by enabling people to think in new and unique ways.
For Osborn, brainstorming should be used to resolve a particular problem or goal. Brainstorming without an end in mind may lead to working away from the goal or solution.
Whether you are brainstorming on your own for personal projects and goals or working as a part of a team, Osborn’s original strategy is fundamental to becoming an idea machine.
Brainstorming is a simple, natural strategy for ideation and problem solving. It motivates people to dream up new ideas that may seem a little insane at first. Several of these ideas can be turned into a fresh and innovative answer to an issue. Other ideas can trigger even more inventive ideas and solutions.
1. Focus on quantity
You’ve likely heard the phrase “quality over quantity,” but when it comes to brainstorming, the exact opposite is true. The more ideas, the merrier.
Rather than trying to think of one grand idea, work toward quantity to come up with as many ideas as possible. This method will give you more options to choose from and can inspire others to think of new ideas. Not every idea is going to be great, but one bad idea may lead to several good ones.
In the end, the more ideas shared, the more likely it is that there will be more useful ideas to work from.
2. Withhold criticism
Negativity has no place in a brainstorming session. No one idea is better than another and criticizing ideas limits how many ideas are shared directly contesting Osborn’s first rule of quantity over quality.
Removing criticism from the equation creates an environment to freely share thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment for it being considered “wrong” or “stupid.”
When people no longer fear criticism, they are more likely to not only share more ideas but share fun and ridiculous ideas. Unusual ideas are key to brainstorming and need to be heard.
3. Welcome unusual ideas
Encourage every idea to be expressed, no matter how bizarre. Unique, unusual, and even eccentric ideas, while not always feasible, can spark innovative solutions that you haven’t thought of previously.
Welcoming unconventionality to a brainstorm session promotes an open space for creativity, and adds to the number of ideas shared.
“It is easier to tone down a wild idea than to think up a new one.” —Alex Osborn
4. Combine and improve ideas
Build on ideas. Obviously, your team won’t be able to accomplish every idea, but you can use those for inspiration.
Combine concepts to create new solutions. Evaluate each idea to determine which are feasible, innovative, and best suited to accomplish your goal. Piggyback on those ideas, suggest improvements or similar alternatives. No one idea is infallible. Even if it isn’t your original idea, that doesn’t mean that you can’t help make it better.
Say you and your team are brainstorming ways to help users onboard with your product more efficiently. One idea shared is to add tips and tools into the product dashboard. That idea gives someone else the idea to create a conversational wizard that walks users through the product.
Building on the ideas shared will help find the best solution to the goal or problem.
Since its inception, brainstorming has taken the world by storm (pun intended). Everyone everywhere uses brainstorming techniques to get the creative juices flowing. Now there are numerous methods for running more effective brainstorming sessions, including:
- Mind mapping
- 5 Whys analysis
- Rapid ideation
If you want to experiment with more advanced methods, check out these popular brainstorming techniques.
There are many ways to go about brainstorming. Whether you are partial to lists or are more of a visual thinker, brainstorming becomes a seamless and more effective process when you organize your thoughts in Lucidchart.
About the author
Jennifer Jackson graduated with her MA from the University of Utah, where she majored in communication and digital media. Jennifer works as a content marketing specialist. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her playing board games, reading, or bingeing TV while drinking copious amounts of iced coffee.
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