Brainstorm effectively for anything
Have you ever gotten stumped when creating a name for something?
Do you feel like it takes you forever to solve specific types of problems?
Whether it’s a technical solution, creative preference, or simply the name of your next product, things can get really frustrating when you’re stuck.
One way to combat this stuck feeling is to learn how to brainstorm to solve any problem you may face.
Learning how to brainstorm effectively can help us make and own our decisions while thinking about how to move forward. It also helps keep our creativity juices flowing, innovate when problem solving, and understand why something was done in a specific way.
Before this year, I was unaware of the art and science behind brainstorming. I had no clue what brainwriting was either.
Little did I know that I had been brainstorming and brainwriting for years, but I’d never tried to explain it to anyone. Until now!
The steps to effective brainstorming
There are many theories about brainstorming, but I’ve been using a very simple process that lets anyone with even a bit of creativity up their brainstorming game.
Here are 5 steps to effective brainstorming:
- Understand what you want to accomplish.
- Write as many ideas possible.
- Choose your top three ideas.
- Evaluate these.
- Choose your winner.
You can use this process to create or solve anything. That’s the great thing about it!
However, like with most things, we can take it up a notch by not only knowing the process but really digging into each step to figure out why it works.
Let’s dig, shall we?
1. Understand what you want to accomplish.
This is obvious, but restating your desired outcome over and over will help. Sometimes you can be held back by not being clear enough with yourself on what it is you want to accomplish.
A good rule of thumb is being able to state your goal in one sentence. Of course you can have additional conditions and parameters, but having the overall end result in mind is best when you begin to brainstorm.
Personally, I find the following statement super helpful:
“I want to go from this to that.”
Replace “this” with what you have now, and “that” with what you want to accomplish.
A few examples:
- I want to go from making $50,000 to making $100,000.
- I want to go from selling logo designs to selling website designs.
- I want to go from being insecure to being confident.
- I want to go from this general landing page to a landing page that captures introvert’s email addresses.
That’s just one way to really understand what you want to accomplish. If you come up with a better (and easier) way, I’d be curious to know!
2. List as many ideas possible.
This is where most people like to slack off when brainstorming, but it’s where the real magic can happen.
Simply put, here’s what stops people from listing as many ideas possible:
Fear of feeling stupid. Fear of being wrong. Fear of not being sophisticated. Fear of risk.
For some odd reason, we perceive all these things as risk. It’s safer to list things we already know can work while leaving out the unknown and untested.
But that defeats the purpose of brainstorming. You’re brainstorming to come up with a NEW way, not a known way (new to you, at least!).
I never noticed the power of bad ideas until someone pointed it out to me recently (thank you, Seth). The key here lies within all the “unsafe” ideas: the stupid ones, the wrong ones, the crazy and sometimes funny ones.
The ideas you know won’t amount to anything actually help tremendously as you work toward composing worthwhile ideas.
Piggy back off of bad ideas, and let your mind chase them. Once you feel like you’ve run into a dead end, start over from a different angle and repeat.
Amateur brainstormers wait for ideas to interrupt their thinking. Brainstorming pros chase ideas.
By listing as many ideas as you can, you literally chase ideas in the pursuit to finding a few great ones.
Plus, chasing ideas can be fun—especially in groups!
My mastermind group and I brainstormed for my friend’s TED talk. Here are a couple of screenshots of us in action.
Okay, I confess, my friend isn’t doing a TED talk. She’s speaking at the Smashing Conference (if you’re a web designer, you should check it out). As you can see, we had lots of fun helping her brainstorm because that’s how the pros really do it… 😉
On a more serious note, I also find it helpful to set a time limit. This doesn’t necessarily help you produce more ideas (one could even argue that it does the opposite), but it motivates you to stay focused and move through the process in a timely manner.
3. Choose your top 3.
Why 3? Honestly, it doesn’t have to be three. It can be five, or seven, or ten. The fewer the better, though.
So how do you identify your top ideas?
Most of the time, you’ll already know which ones they are. These are the ideas that made you feel extra cool and super excited. They pumped your creative adrenaline juices, and probably left you impressed with yourself for a short moment!
If it helps, make note of those when you’re listing ideas in step 2. Trust your gut and emotions, and use a separate color or special marking when you get this feeling.
Now that you have your top ideas, look at them side by side to do an honest evaluation.
When making your comparison, is there a best way to evaluate? I believe so, and I like to use a process-oriented approach to finding the best of my remaining ideas.
Here is a simple three-step process to properly evaluate your ideas:
- Make sure all of your top ideas indeed accomplish your stated goal. Eliminate them if they don’t.
- Write down all constraints, conditions, and priorities you can think of for all remaining ideas. Sometimes, great ideas go against specific requirements or preferences.
- Now, evaluate and rank against the listed constraints, conditions, and priorities.
If you like things a bit “fluffier” than a step-by-step process, another easy way to evaluate your top ideas is to pit two of them head-to-head and create a battle of ideas.
To do this, treat them as if they were competing. Which would you choose with a gun to your head? …Okay, maybe a little dramatic, but you get my point.
Once you decide between two, make the winner idea battle the next. Repeat in your makeshift idea bracket until you have a single idea standing.
5. Choose your winner.
Sometimes, you’ll have a few ideas you feel are equally good. Other times, each will feel weak in an area where another is strong.
However you feel, it’s important to remember that all of your brainstorming efforts will be for nothing if you don’t choose a winner.
You have to be decisive here and flip the paradigm that tricks us into not choosing.
For some reason, just like when we’re listing all of our ideas (both stupid and smart), our natural tendency is to stay safe when choosing a winner.
Here’s the reality: no matter what you choose, you are being safe when you choose a winner. There is no risk.
Why? Because you’ve vetted many ideas before getting to this point. Trust your gut, and move forward with the one you feel is the winner.
If you don’t have that “winner” feeling with any of the ideas, then flip a coin, or start over and complete the brainstorming process with fidelity.
It’s important to realize that any of the top ideas you’re struggling to choose from are all good enough. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be struggling to choose!
Once you choose, commit. Own the idea. After all, it came from your mind, so it’s yours! Forget about the other ideas, and move forward.
Go forth and brainstorm
Now that you know a simple way to brainstorm, you have no excuses the next time you get stumped on anything. Walk through the five steps to make your decisions, own their value, and move forward toward your goals.