Thunder is a good thing for brainstorming!

Yep. Cheesy. But true! If you really want to have a successful brainstorming session, you have to let all of your ideas – even the most insane, impractical, and outrageous ones – out into the world!

Whether you’re brainstorming in a group or by yourself, the point is to get as many ideas out as possible. This means that, above all, just get them out – no analyzing yet! That can happen later. Just throw the ideas around and see where they take you, because the thought process is an amazing one that can lead you to some pretty intense inspiration.

If you’re having problems coming up with ideas, which is more likely to happen when you’re alone, then there are a couple things you can do in order to expand your mind’s creative thought process.

  1. How would you solve the given problem if you went back in time by 100 years?
  2. Imagine yourself as someone else – empathize with their point of view and think about how that person would solve the problem.
  3. Do a SWOT analysis! Identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats you are facing. This will lead you to analyze the issue with more depth.
  4. Do a mind-mapping technique. By using a hierarchical structure for your problem, you can put it into perspective by breaking it down. Write your topic or problem or question in the center of a piece of paper and circle it, then branch out from there into smaller chunks to solve one-by-one, and more if needed. You can also do this digitally by using mind-mapping software like FreeMind (it’s free!).
  5. Free writing, or writing down every thought that pops into your head, is a good way to get the juices flowing on paper and get down every idea you may have. It may start out with, “Okay, I’m just going to write whatever pops into my head now. I need a shower. I wonder if there’s any coffee left? This is going to be interesting once I figure out what I’m doing…” and it goes on. Write everything down! You never know what nuggets of ideas you may catch on that piece of paper.
  6. Write down a list of ideas. Often times, one idea will lead to more ideas, especially in a group. If you have a handful of people from different backgrounds with different experiences, you’re going to get a whole lot of different ideas from them all!
  7. Look around and do some research. If you have a computer and can get online, you can literally find answers to just about everything you come across. Everything is online now! We even have online colleges and high schools now. People share their problems and solutions on the web all the time – maybe you can tap into some of the knowledge already out there to solve your issue, or at least have it lead to ideas of your own. It’s not quite the same as being in a group, but it’ll still be informative!
  8. Ask random people for input. The point of brainstorming is to get ideas, make things happen, and get various perspectives in order to accomplish this. If you get input from someone who isn’t IN the project or problem, they can oftentimes point out ideas or aspects that someone within the problem may not be able to see. That saying about not seeing the forest for the trees applies here… if you’re too close to it, you miss the big picture. It’s like looking frantically for your car keys only to find out 20 minutes later that they’ve been in your pocket the whole time =)
  9. Think in opposites. If you switch your perspective from one side of the spectrum to the opposite side, you’ll have a whole new angle to look at things! It’s simple. If you assume that things will go a specific way, try to change or get rid of that assumption. If you think most people would do one thing, do something completely different or opposite. You might just surprise yourself!
  10. Most importantly: whether you’re in a group or alone, don’t analyze or criticize any ideas. None. If you’re in a group, this will make people scared to share their ideas. If you’re by yourself, your inner critic will kick in and shoot down every idea you have. No bueno! The analysis part can come later. For successful brainstorming, though, keep the ideas flowing, not the criticism (self- or otherwise).
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People use brainstorming for all sorts of things. Anything as small as where to go for a dinner date to something as big as how to outdo the competition in business or sports. You have to think about it! Because of the nature of brainstorming and ideas, things can get pretty crazy. If you get stuck, try to change your perspective a little… or a lot.

It amazes me how many things can be solved with brainstorming. If you’re in school, it can help you write papers, come up with project ideas, or even innovative ways to handle various career situations. If you’re working, you can brainstorm various things, too. If you’ve ever seen the show House, you’ll know exactly that even doctors and nurses brainstorm to diagnose difficult-to-pinpoint patient cases.

Everyone should know the basics of brainstorming! This tool is so useful, and can be applied to virtually anything. Whether you’re working on a novel, figuring out a business plan, rearranging furniture, or figuring out what to cook with leftovers, brainstorming is an amazing thing and can open up numerous channels of thought and creativity.

So, the next time you’re faced with a question, problem, or idea, get out a pen or gather a group and prepare for some crazy weather. Chances are, things will be a lot clearer once the storm is over and the clouds clear up!