How to Brainstorm: 7 Techniques to Generate More Ideas

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Whether you're a freelancer or a corporate team member, you've probably had to face the dreaded "b" word at some point in your career. Brainstorming is absolutely necessary to remain an industry-leader in your profession, and it's essential for coming up with ideas that help differentiate you from the competition. With that being said, brainstorming isn't an easy task. And, if it's not done properly, brainstorming sessions can be wildly unproductive and can feel like a waste of time.

However, these seven techniques provided below aim to help you and your team generate more ideas with ease. Say goodbye to the days of unproductive brainstorming sessions and hello to a breadth of ideas and new knowledge.

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1. Brain Writing

Brain writing is a technique in which a team leader presents a topic/problem for the team to brainstorm solutions to solve. From there, the team leader would give the team a set amount of time to brainstorm silently and write down their own ideas. After the time is up, each team member will share their ideas with the group until there are no new ideas to share.

For example, a team leader might say, "OK, team. Our customers are seeing an increase in content errors. We need to solve this ASAP, so please take 10 minutes right now and write down every single possible solution you can come up with for how we can solve this problem."

The purpose of this brainstorming technique is to keep idea generation and idea discussion completely separate. If your team has history getting off-task in meetings or has difficulty holding an effective and focused brainstorming session, this is definitely a tactic to try. This method allows every member of the team to share their idea and ensures that no ideas are lost in the mix of bias and opinions.

2. Mind Mapping

If you're looking for a simple, visual way to organize all of your ideas, mind mapping is the way to go. Mind mapping is a strategy designed to help you effectively brainstorm in a way that allows you to see all your thoughts on paper. It allows for creative thinking and flexibility that traditional brainstorming cannot provide. It also makes it possible to show how solutions or ideas are related, which is sometimes essential depending on the topic or problem you're trying to solve through your brainstorming session.

Another perk of mind mapping as a brainstorming activity is that it can be done independently or collaboratively. It can be a useful tool for brainstorming, but can also transfer to strategic planning or project planning after you've completed your brainstorming session. To get started with mind mapping, follow these steps:

1. Start in the middle of a blank page, writing or drawing the idea you intend to develop. I would suggest that you use the page in landscape orientation.

2. Develop the related subtopics around this central topic, connecting each of them to the center with a line.

3. Repeat the same process for the subtopics, generating lower-level subtopics as you see fit, connecting each of those to the corresponding subtopic.

3. Rapid Ideation

If you're in a time crunch and need to generate as many ideas as possible, you should try rapid ideation. As the name suggests, this strategy focuses on getting as many ideas as possible gathered as quickly as possible. For this strategy to be effective, team leaders need to provide all the background information, including problem/topic, deadline and budget, etc., upfront. From there, a specific timeframe for idea generation will be set. During this time, team leaders should encourage the team to write down absolutely any idea that comes to mind—no matter how silly it may seem in their mind. Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that are unexpected.

Consider supplying team members with post-it notes to write down all of their ideas, because this will be aid you in visualizing all the possible solutions after the initial idea gathering time is complete. After the predetermined time allotment, the group will come back together and share their ideas. From there, the team can work through all the viable solutions.

4. Round Table Brainstorming

To facilitate this brainstorming technique, have the team form a circle or sit around a table. The team leader will then introduce the topic. From there, team members will go around in turns stating their idea for the topic or potential solution to the problem that needs to be solved. A. moderator or the team leader will record every single solution. This will continue until there are absolutely no more ideas to be shared.

Please note, in order for this strategy to be effective, the team leader will need to ensure that there is no discussion of each idea until all ideas have been collected. If discussion after every potential idea is given, some team members may not feel comfortable sharing all of their ideas, and you run the risk of missing out on the best idea. This idea will ensure participation from every member of the team, which is also good for morale.

5. Virtual Brainstorming

If you're part of a team that is notorious for getting side-tracked during in-person meetings, conducting a virtual brainstorming session may be in your best interest. There are plenty of free online collaborative software solutions that your team can use to collaborate in real-time electronically. What this does is it involves absolutely everyone on your team in coming up with ideas, but it takes the pressure of speaking in front of a group away.

Another perk of virtual brainstorming is that you don't have to worry about whether or not all the ideas were recorded—they're being recorded in real-time as team members add their ideas to the list. Say goodbye to the days of losing meeting notes and having to start from scratch!

6. Asking questions and starbursting

While the name of this brainstorming technique is not conventional, the results are revolutionary. Starbursting focuses on asking questions about the topic instead of finding answers or ideas, per se. Starbursting is the ideal brainstorming strategy to use for complex and confusing topics. It works by the team leader introducing the topic and then team members asking every single question they can think of in relation to the topic.

This brainstorming strategy makes it possible for teams to flesh out all the details of a project before they invest time and money into completing the project. It helps uncover exactly what needs to be done, which allows stakeholders to properly estimate the time and cost of completing a project.

7. Stepladder Brainstorming

While this is a more old-school way of brainstorming, it's extremely effective, which is why it's still used in today's times. Ladder brainstorming, which is from the 1990s, is a way that allows team leaders to receive every member's input, without hearing the bias that's usually prevalent in group settings.

To conduct stepladder brainstorming, everyone gathers in the room together. The leader will then share the topic. After that, everyone will leave the room with the exception of two team members. The two teammates will exchange their ideas. Then, another member will be called into the room and asked to share his or her ideas. The two members who began the discussions shouldn't speak until the new member has shared their ideas. The process will repeat until everyone has shared their ideas.

Stepladder brainstorming makes it possible for everyone's voice to be heard and for every idea to become discovered. Despite its efficacy, it's not recommended for use for groups larger than 15 people, as the time constraints may become cumbersome.

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Brainstorming Considerations

Brainstorming is a highly efficient way to flesh out all the possible angles on a topic that can be discovered. It is also useful for finding out innovative ways to solve problems. Companies can only stay ahead of the competition if they're delivering the best and brightest products or service options. To achieve this, brainstorming is absolutely necessary.

With that being said, though, it's important to remember that productive brainstorming sessions don't just happen. To conduct effective meetings, team members and leaders must all be on the same page and adhere to the same guidelines. Here are the top guidelines to follow when it comes to brainstorming sessions:

  • Only hold brainstorming sessions if you have crystal-clear objectives
  • Allow every team member to contribute
  • Implement a strategy that involves individual and group contributions
  • Prioritize quantity vs. quality when you first start brainstorming
  • Don't impose any judgment on ideas that are generated

Summary

Now that you've learned the importance of brainstorming and identified seven techniques for generating more ideas, it's time to practice these strategies in your own business. Idea generation can be difficult, but it doesn't have to be. Try out a variety of the techniques provided above, or create your very own methodology for brainstorming based on these techniques to bolster your idea generation.