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What Is Brainstorming?
Brainstorming is a creative process of applied imagination, where a person (or group of people) sits down with a specific problem in mind and spontaneously comes up with solutions to that problem.
Brainstorming techniques can be as simple as making lists and doing word-association exercises or as detailed as mind mapping. Brainstorming usually occurs during the beginning stages of a project, and you can do it using a whiteboard, online software, notecards, or just a piece of paper and a pen.
What Is the Purpose of Brainstorming?
The purpose of brainstorming is creative problem solving; after you’re done, you should have a large number of fresh ideas to help define the problem and a list of possible creative solutions. Brainstorming works because it’s meant to break you out of lateral thinking and unlock your imagination, exploring unusual ideas you wouldn’t normally come up with.
6 Ways to Brainstorm Creative Ideas
If you want to solve a problem but you’re not sure where to start, following the steps below can help you find just the right brilliant idea. Whether you’re on your own or are conducting a group brainstorming session, here are some brainstorming tips to get you started:
- Designate a space. Go someplace where you know you won’t be interrupted—for instance, your bedroom, or somewhere in nature. If you’re having a hard time finding where you do your best thinking, try this: Every day for a week, spend 20 minutes brainstorming ideas in seven different places. After the week is over, evaluate which place let you be the most creative. Once you find the place, spend another week thinking in that space for at least 20 minutes per day. If you realize that you rarely find yourself in your best thinking space, make a manageable change in your routine to put you there more regularly. Maybe that means fabricating a commute, or maybe it means foregoing your favorite podcast while you shower so you can brainstorm ideas instead.
- Be quiet. Spend a few minutes wiping your mind of other tasks and worries. Focus on creating a blank slate upon which to sketch some creative ideas. It can be a great idea to set a time limit—anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes—to keep you from getting sidetracked and turning your session into a waste of time.
- Let your mind wander. Give yourself some room to dream by putting yourself in a creative mindset. Creativity can be severely dampened by inhibitions; for truly effective brainstorming sessions, the number-one brainstorming rule is to let yourself think freely and go wild—save the criticism of ideas for later. Also, try to resist the urge to focus on only a few concepts. There are no bad ideas at this stage. Coming up with as many of your own ideas as possible will help you unlock new avenues of thought. Build on your old concepts to come up with new ideas.
- Consider a brainstorming group. It can be hard to have an ideation session on your own, which is why a common brainstorming method is to bring different perspectives and points of view together in a group session. Large groups of team members, friends, or even strangers (often brought together for online brainstorming, called “brain-netting”) can open up wild ideas and new processes. If you’re feeling stuck during individual brainstorming, let others’ ideas fuel your own.
- Record your ideas. After a brainstorm session, make sure you jot your ideas down so that you don’t forget them, whether it’s on sticky notes or in your phone. Even if you’re unsatisfied with the ideas that come out of a session, make sure to record them—they’ll be a great starting point for the next time you sit down.
- Follow up on your ideas. After a session, make sure you follow up on your ideas rather than leave them forgotten. If you don’t make use of your brainstorming session, it will have been a waste of time. Wait at least a day to give your ideas time to rest, then return to the list and see what you think. If the ideas still aren’t quite what you’re looking for, use them as a jumping-off point for your next session.
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Sara Blakely had no fashion, retail, or business leadership experience when she invented Spanx in the late 1990s. All she had was $5,000 and an idea. Which means you can start your own billion-dollar business, too. Learn more about finding your purpose, making prototypes, building awareness, and selling your product in Sara Blakely’s MasterClass.
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