Brainstorming can be one of the most inspiring and fruitful exercises a group or company can do. However, it can also be the most frustrating. Unfortunately, “it’s all been done before” and “there are no more new ideas” are often heard most when a mental wall hijacks the process.
When all hope appears to be lost, here are a few tried and tested tricks that can help spark new thoughts. While the below might not be appropriate for every situation, hopefully these techniques will result in more valuable brainstorming sessions:
The Sticky Note
Move away from the white board and give participants a stack of sticky notes. Set a time limit to write down the first things that come to mind on a given topic. Possibly propose a new topic (what you did last weekend, where to go on a vacation) to help inspire more creative thinking.
Come up with the worst idea for the topic (e.g., how do we sell fewer products, provide worse service, etc.). This might seem a bit contradictory, but the exercise of thinking of the worst idea can often produce one or two that have some legs.
What Would Jiffy Lube Do?
I learned this one from storyteller Jenne Fromm. Just as the title says, ask yourself what a company like Jiffy Lube would do and start hashing out ideas. Feel free to insert other companies for additional ideas (e.g., Walmart, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Best Buy, etc.).
Expand Your Horizons
Point to a random word in the dictionary and use that word during the brainstorm. This serves two purposes; first, it helps generate new ideas and second, it expands vocabulary.
If ideas are simply not flowing, just walk away. Often times the brain will stay active on a certain topic while you’re thinking about something completely different. If you have a 2-hour brainstorming session, think about breaking it up — one hour on the first day, the second hour a week later. The key here is to make sure participants write their ideas down throughout the week.
Having worked in marketing for more than eight years, Charlie Wells enjoys the challenge of brand strategy, particularly pulling insights from customers and consumers to develop smart, effective work. Between stints in advertising, he spent a total of five years in the restaurant business managing and running different establishments. When Charlie is not at his desk at KCG, he enjoys kayaking, camping and losing video games to his 6-year-old son and newborn daughter.