Caught with a problem you cannot solve? Need new ideas and solutions? The process of brainstorming requires you to think out of the box and change your current paradigm of thinking, so as to break out of the problem.
I wrote this post as a reader recently asked me for the best brainstorming methods to achieve the best results. Here are 25 out-of-the-box brainstorming techniques, great for brainstorming solutions to current dilemmas and generating new ideas to achieve your goals. Which ones can you use to tackle your current goal/dilemma?
- Time Travel. How would you deal with this if you were in a different time period? 10 years ago? 100 years ago? 1,000 years ago? 10,000 years ago? How about in the future? 10 years later? 100 years later? 1,000 years later? 10,000 years later?
- Teleportation: What if you were facing this problem in a different place? Different country? Different geographic region? Different universe? A different plane of existence? How would you handle it?
- Attribute change. How would you think about this if you were a different gender? Age? Race? Intellect? Height? Weight? Nationality? Your Sanity? With each attribute change, you become exposed to a new spectrum of thinking you were subconsciously closed off from.
- Rolestorming. What would you do if you were someone else? Your parent? Your teacher? Your manager? Your partner? Your best friend? Your enemy? Etc?
- Iconic Figures. This is a spin-off of rolestorming. What if you were an iconic figure of the past? Buddha? Jesus? Krishna? Albert Einstein? Thomas Edison? Mother Theresa? Princess Diana? Winston Churchill? How about the present? Barack Obama? Steve Jobs? Bill Gates? Warren Buffet? Steven Spielberg? Etc.? How would you think about your situation?
- Superpowers.This is another spinoff of rolestorming. What if you suddenly have superpowers? Superman? Spiderman? Wonderwoman? X-Men? The Hulk? One of the Fantastic Four? What would you do?
- Gap Filling. Identify your current spot – which is Point A – and your end goal – which is Point B. What is the gap that exists between A and B? What are all the things you need to fill up this gap? List them down and find out what it takes to get them.
- Group Ideation. Have a group brainstorming session! Get a group of people and start ideating together. More brains are better than one! Let the creative juices flow together!
- Mind Map. Great tool to work out as many ideas as you can in a hierarchical tree and cluster format. Start off with your goal in the center, branch out into the major sub-topics, and continue to branch out into as many sub-sub-topics as needed. Source Forge is a free mind-mapping software you can check out.
- Medici Effect. The Medici Effect refers to how ideas in seemingly unrelated topics/fields intersect. Put your goal alongside similar goals in different areas/contexts and identify parallel themes and solutions. For example, if your goal is to be an award-winning artist, look at award-winning musicians, educators, game developers, computer makers, businessmen, etc. Are there any commonalities that you can apply to your situation? What has worked for each of them, and how can you apply this success factor?
- SWOT Analysis. Do a SWOT of your situation. What are the Strengths? Weaknesses? Opportunities? Threats? The analysis will open your mind up to new ideas.
- Brain Writing. Get a group of people and have them write their ideas on a sheet of paper. After 10 minutes, rotate the sheets to different people and build off what others wrote on their paper. Continue until everyone has written on everyone else’s sheet.
- Trigger Method. Brainstorm on as many ideas as possible. Then select the best ones and brainstorm on those ideas as ‘triggers’ for more ideas. Repeat until you find the best solution.
- Variable Brainstorming.
- First, identify the variable in the end outcome you look to achieve. For example, if your goal is to achieve X visitors to your website, the variable is # of visitors.
- Second, list all the possibilities for that variable. Different variations of visitors are gender / age / race / nationality / occupation / interests / etc. Think about the question with each different variable. For example, for Genre: How can you get more females to your website? How can you get more males to your website? For Age: How can you get more teenagers to your website? How can you get more adults to your website? And so on.
- Niche. This is part two of the variable brainstorming method. From the variations of the variable you have listed, mix and match them in different ways and brainstorm against those niches. For example, using the example in #14, how can you get more male teenagers to your website? (Gender and Age) How can you get more American female adults to your website? (Nationality, Gender, and Age)
- Challenger. List all the assumptions in your situation and challenge them. For example, your goal is to brainstorm on a list of ideas for your romance novel which you want to get published. Notice you have several assumptions here. 1) Genre to write: Romance. Why must it be that romance? Can it be a different genre? 2) Another assumption is regarding the length of the writing, that it must be a novel. Why must it be a novel? Can it be a short story? A series of books? 3) Medium: Book. Why must be it a book? Can it be an ebook? Mp3? Video? And so on.
- Escape Thinking. This is a variation of Challenger method. Look at the assumptions behind the goal you are trying to achieve, then flip that assumption around and look at your goal from that new angle. For example, you want to earn more income from selling books. Your assumption may be ‘People buy books for themselves’. Flip the assumption around such that ‘People do NOT buy books for reading’. What will this lead to? You may end up with people buy books as gifts, for collection purposes, etc. Another assumption may be ‘People read books’. The flip side of this assumption may be people look at books (drawings). Escaping from these assumptions will bring you to a different realm of thought on how to achieve your goal.
- Reverse Thinking. Think about what everyone will typically do in your situation. Then do the opposite.
- Counteraction Busting. What counteracting forces are you facing in your scenario? For example, if you want to increase traffic to your website, two counteracting forces may be the number of ads you put and the pageviews of your site. The more ads you put, the more users will likely be annoyed and surf away. What can you do such that the counteraction no longer exists or the counteraction is no longer an issue? Some solutions may be to 1) Get ads that are closely related to the theme of your site, 2) Get contextual ads that are part of your content rather than separate, and so on.
- Resource Availability. What if money, time, people, supplies are not issues at all? What if you can ask for whatever you want and have it happen? What will you do?
- Drivers Analysis. What are the forces that help drive you forward in your situation? What are the forces acting against you? Think about how you can magnify the former and reduce/eliminate the latter.
- Exaggeration. Exaggerate your goal and see how you will deal with it now. Enlarge it: What if it is 10 times its current size? 100 times? 1000 times? Shrink it: What if it is 1/10 its current size? 1/100? 1/1000? Multiply it: What if you have 10 of these goals now? 100? 1000?
- Get Random Input. Get a random stimulus and try to see how you can fit it into your situation. Get a random word or image from a dictionary/ webpage/ book/ magazine/ newspaper/ TV and think about how it can apply. Or a random object from your room /house /workplace /neighborhood /etc. And so on.
- Meditation. Focus on your key question such as ‘How can I solve XX problem?’ or ‘How can I achieve XX goal?’ and meditate on it. Have a pen and paper in front of you so you can write whatever comes to mind. Do this for 30 minutes or as long as it takes.
- Write a list of 101 ideas. Open your word processor and write a laundry list of at least 101 ideas to deal with your situation. Go wild and write whatever you can think of without restricting yourself. Do not stop until you have at least 101.
To get a quick mental boost in just 15 minutes, read: Increase Your Mental Clarity in 15 Minutes
Get the manifesto version of this article: 25 Useful Brainstorming Techniques [Manifesto]
(Image: Mind map)