Brainstorming is a powerful way to unleash your creativity and find a good solution to any challenge you have, in any area of life. You can brainstorm to come up with a place to go with your kids on a Sunday afternoon, a title for a novel, or a negotiation strategy for high-level business merger.
Brainstorming is, at its heart, a simple process. You list, by yourself or with other people, whatever ideas you can think of on a particular topic.
The first ideas may be the normal, boring, obvious things that people think of naturally. But as the brainstorming continues, the magic starts to happen. Creative, wacky stuff starts to come out. Bizarre connections are made. The brainstorming often takes surprising twists, which sparks new batches of ideas. And those ideas inspire more ideas. Pretty soon, you have a rich, diverse list of options.
Capturing the ideas
The ideas you generate need to be recorded in some way. A person working alone may write or type them out, though he could also use a voice recorder or any other means of capturing his ideas he likes.
A group usually designates a person to write down the ideas somewhere everyone can see.A large easel with big pieces of paper, a white board, or an online space that everyone can access are good options.
The key to brainstorming
The key to brainstorming is that you don’t evaluate the ideas as you’re generating them. You want to avoid all criticism or negativity in the brainstorming process. Criticism freezes people. It robs us of our creativity.
In brainstorming, you want to avoid anything that makes people feel tense, judged, or forced. Acceptance, relaxation, and fun help creativity flow.
The trick to successful brainstorming is to bring as much of this stuff into your brainstorming as you can. Many of the ideas you’ll come up with won’t be practical, but they’re important to the process. They help you loosen up. They help you think about the problem in new ways. They spark ideas that will be useful.
So you really want to encourage everyone to be wild, wacky, fun, impractical, and bizarre when they brainstorm.
Using time limits and targets to spark creativity
Brainstorming is about freeing yourself to say whatever comes to your mind, to let the creative processes go. Often, when a person sits down to brainstorm, even though he knows he’s just supposed to open up and write down whatever comes to mind, he’s secretly trying to come up with a bunch of good ideas. Which makes him freeze so he can’t come up with any ideas. If you want to trick yourself and others into relaxing when brainstorming, you can use time limits and/or targets.
With time limits, the person or group comes up with as many ideas as they can in a certain period of time.
With time limits, there’s no time to be picky or have standards. You only have a few minutes, so you just start listing anything that comes to mind.
For an individual, five to ten minutes is plenty. With a group, 15 to 30 minutes is a nice amount of time.
You may be surprised to see that you can go from being stuck to having 20 or 30 ideas in five minutes. True, many of those ideas won’t be practical, but, odds are, you’ll have some winners in there.
Setting a massive target
Another way to take your focus away from trying to come up with good ideas is to set a massive target for the number of ideas you want. This puts the focus on quantity, rather than quality.
Let’s say you’ve just written the Great American Novel, you lucky duck, and you need a title for it. Instead of sitting in front of blank screen and trying to come up with the perfect title for your masterpiece, you set a target to come up with 100 potential titles. When you’re trying to come up with that many, you’re not going for brilliant, clever, and impressive. You just list whatever random ideas come to mind. And some of those are likely to have the potential, maybe with some tweaking, to be that brilliant, clever, impressive title of your dreams.
If you’re stuck or want some extra pizzaz in your brainstorming, you can boost your creativity by listing bad, outrageous, bizarre, or unrealistic ideas.
All the pressure is off when you’re deliberately trying to list bad or outrageous ideas. People open up, get wacky and creative, and have fun. My clients and I love these, and I think you will, too.
During a coaching session, a delightful client was brainstorming solutions to a recurring problem he had. He’d come up with a few ideas, all of them run-of-the-mill ideas that didn’t work for him. Then he was stuck. I asked him if he could come up with some really bad solutions to his problem. “Bad ideas? No problem!” he exclaimed with glee. “I have tons of those.” His energy shifted. He started having a good time. And the ideas poured from him.
And, as often happens when a person tries to come up with bad ideas, he failed. A few of his ideas were actually quite brilliant.
Set the scene
You can encourage people (or just yourself) to loosen up and have some fun by setting up the environment so it’s fun, relaxing, or funny. Things like playing funky music in the background, giving each person brightly colored modeling clay to play with while they brainstorm, and having everyone sit sitting on comfy couches can help people loosen up.
And if things get tough, you can always bring out the wacky hats. You pretty much have to be loose and have fun when people are wearing wacky hats. When you’re wearing a giant foam cowboy hat, the guy next to you is sporting a snazzy red-and-white striped Dr. Seuss number, and the woman next to him is wearing a jester hat whose bells ring every time she turns her head, it’s hard to take yourselves too seriously.