⏰ prep time: 10 mins
⚡ brainstorming time: 90 mins
🚀 suitable for: 1–20 people
It’s easy to be overwhelmed when you’re asked to create something new, or fix a problem that seems unfixable. Having a deadline to meet can contribute to this sense of impending doom, stopping you in your tracks before you’ve even started. At this point, scrolling through social media for pictures of cute puppies or your favourite Star Wars memes (we don’t judge) can seem like a great idea, and no wonder.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you’re a world-famous creative or a complete novice, everyone will get stuck with this feeling at some point. And that’s okay. In a world of easy distractions, reaching that flow state where you’re immersed in your work is a challenge. Whether it’s those emails you’ve let build up or those chores around the house that you’re avoiding, there’s always something else that you can be doing.
With all that in mind, we’ve come up with some brainstorming tips that will help get you over this hurdle and on your way to coming up with fresh ideas.
Be the architect of your environment 🎨
“Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behaviour”
James Clear, Atomic Habits.
Our ability to be creative is affected by the space that we find ourselves in. Knowing this is an important first step, as we can craft our environment to help us be more productive. For example, if you surround yourself with books, you’re much more likely to pick one up and read for a while. What’s even more important is what you don’t have around you.
John Cleese described the ideal of an oasis, where your mind is free from the distractions and obligations of everyday life. So find a space where you can put your phone and your laptop away (or at least turn off your notifications) and make sure that you have everything you need to jot down your thoughts.
Once you’ve done this, try to use this space for problem solving or forming ideas, not just once but every time. Over time, your brain will come to associate this space with creative thinking (the sciencey word for this is neuroplasticity, which is pretty cool).
Identify the root causes of your problem 👀
Start your 90 minute timer now (any more than that and our brains get a bit frazzled).
First, take some time to really think about the problem that you’re trying to solve. The idea here is to dig into the causes and effects of your problem. You might think that it’s a step back from the actual doing, but it makes the difference between a good idea and a great idea.
For example, let’s say you’re writing an essay. First, you’ll want to identify the components of the question you’re trying to answer. What are the key themes? What evidence do you have? What has already been said on this topic? Asking these questions will help you when you structure your argument later on.
The same idea applies to a whole range of problems that you might face. By unpicking the details of the problem, you can identify the root causes, and you’ll have the insight you need to explore effective solutions.
Here’s how we can visualise it:
Get your brain into open mode⚡
Okay, now it’s show time. In order to brainstorm effectively, you need to be open minded and imaginative. Don’t build on your ideas as this will slow you down (and you’ll have time to do that later!).
Our favourite way to get into the open mode is to think of a number of ideas to come up with. It doesn’t matter how many, but it should be enough to scare you a bit. As an example, list 1–20 on your page and try to fill each spot. Don’t worry about how good they are, just get as many down as possible.
If you start to lose the flow, try writing down the worst possible solution, or the exact opposite of what you need. It’s a fun thought experiment which can help get those ideas flowing again. Plan in your schedule when you need to pick a solution — leaving it to the last minute is actually a good thing in this case.
Remember, don’t be afraid to be silly. Humour can lead to you having more fun creating ideas which can lead to more creative solutions.
By the end of this exercise you should have a list of stupid ideas, generic ideas, ambitious ideas and some really great ideas.
Some other brainstorming techniques to try🖊️
There’s a range of different brainstorming techniques out there. You’ll find some more useful than others based on whether you’re doing it alone or in a group, and what your brainstorming is trying to accomplish.
You’ll find this method particularly useful if you’re brainstorming in a large group. Each team member should write their ideas down on sticky notes without sharing until the end. Brainwriting allows everyone to contribute and prevents personality bias from creeping in.
Mindmaps are a fun and creative way to get ideas down on a page. Start with a blank piece of paper and write your subject in the middle. From there, add your thoughts as branches from that centre point until you can’t think of any more. Mindmapping helps you connect various ideas and can make for an inspiring visual.
Now you’re set! You can start to develop your favourite ideas.
But don’t throw the others away, keep them or take a photo just incase that ultra stupid idea you thought would never work turns out to be the best!