Brainstorming is the secret weapon of every freelancer and entrepreneur. It helps us recall everything we know about the subject and any related ideas to it. Whether we realize it or not, brainstorming is at the root of every venture we undertake, be it a product, project or something as simple as a blog post.
There’s a reason freelancers swear by the powers of brainstorming. A single brainstorming session can create new and creative ideas that either make you more productive or help you find a solution to your problem. It’s a great way to extract all the information you have and what you need to know more about. It allows you to notice connections and patterns in the information and helps you create an outline.
Knowing the importance of brainstorming, how can we use it to take our projects to next level? How do we brainstorm effectively? The following tips and techniques will help you get the most out of your brainstorming exercise.
Mind mapping is the easiest and most popular form of brainstorming. They’re especially effective if you’re brainstorming on your own. A mind map is a graphical representation of all your ideas linked to and arranged around one central idea, problem or topic.
There are no rules to it apart from jotting down everything that comes in your head. Your mind map can be hierarchical or in a tree branch format. You can either do mind map on a paper or use an online program like Mind Meister which lets you save, import and export your mind maps and comes with a free version as well.
Brain dumps are the most fun. Take a piece of paper or open up your word processor and start writing everything that comes to mind. There’s no rule saying it has to be related to the project.
(Image source: Sergey Peterman)
If you’re brainstorming logo ideas for a client and find yourself thinking about lunch, note down what you want to have. Trust me, it’s much more productive this way. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck trying to come up with logos while your mouth is watering as you’re thinking about food.
If you find yourself stuck for ideas, talk to someone and invite them on board for the project. Get them to brainstorm with you and compare notes. More often than not, your brainstorming partner will pick up something you might have missed, find a correlation or come up with a unique angle that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own.
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If you don’t want to partner up on the project, that’s fine. You can still get them to collaborate with you for brainstorming as long as you return the favour.
Reverse brainstorming can work in two ways. The first is to visualize the result you want to achieve and then work your way back to the start. For example, if you want to write a blog post, then depending on how you write, your reverse thinking timeline will look something like:
- Respond to comments
- Publish post
- Format post
- Write post
- Create an outline of the post
- Write title
This technique helps you concentrate on areas that you may take for granted and highlights anything that you might have missed. In the example above, you might realize that you didn’t pay attention to the formatting of the post and now know that you need to do.
(Image source: Igor Leonov)
The second way is to ask yourself the opposite question of what you’re trying to achieve. First, ask yourself ‘How do I achieve these results?’ and then ask ‘How do I achieve the exact opposite?’
Let’s take this blog post for example. When brainstorming the ideas for this post, I wanted to make this post exceptional. So I asked myself ‘How can I make this post amazing?’ I drew up a blank. I spent an hour looking at my outline for this post trying to figure out how to make it amazing.
Then I decided to ask myself ‘How can I make this post mediocre?’ The answer was staring me right in the face – for both this question and the one above. I could make this post mediocre by simply explaining the tips and techniques for brainstorming and not giving any examples and not showing how to use these tips.
Group sessions are great for getting past ideas that have you stuck. If you’re stuck at a particular section of your project, a group brainstorming session can be your ticket to clarity. The people in your group bring their own experience and knowledge that will help you find ideas for solving your problem.
(Image source: Yuri Arcurs)
It’s not necessary for the group members to be from the same field as you. As long as they have a rudimentary understanding of what you’re trying to solve, their ideas can be invaluable.
Sometimes, even input from someone who has no idea what you’re talking about can help. Encourage them to ask questions and propose any idea that comes to their head – even if it seems silly. Having a novice’s perspective on your problem may just be what you need to find a solution.
Asking questions is a great way to come up with ideas and answers to your problems. Use prompters like what, where, who, when, and how.
Suppose you’re creating a website for a dentist, ask ‘Who is the customer?’ The answer will be, people who have problems with their teeth. Next, ask, ‘What kind of problems do they have? To which you’ll answer ‘Toothaches, cavities, dentures, etc’ and so on until you have all information you need.
Set A Time Limit
Setting a time limit is a great technique if you’re pressed for time or haven’t been able to brainstorm successfully. It forces you to focus and come up with as many ideas as it can in the given time.
(Image source: Gunnar Pippel)
The duration of the time limit depends on you. The limit has to be short enough to instil a sense of urgency but long enough to allow you to record all your ideas. If you’re trying this technique for the first time, start with 10 minutes.
For bigger projects, break your tasks down in small chunks and then brainstorm them one by one. This way you won’t feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of the project.
A SWOT analysis is an analysis of your project’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Doing a SWOT analysis will give you a clear idea of what you have, what you need, what you can capitalize on and what you need to improve.
(Image source: Chad McDermott)
The beauty of brainstorming is the lack of rules. It all depends on you. If you’re a list creator then you’re free to brainstorm through them. If you’re a graph lover then you’re more than welcome to go crazy with print or virtual graphs.
The only thing you need to do before you start brainstorming is:
- Identify and elaborate the problem
- Set rules for your brainstorming session (how many people per group in case of group sessions, time limit, etc)
- Understand that there is no such thing as a bad or silly idea.
- How do you brainstorm and what is your favourite brainstorming technique?