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What Is Brainstorming?
Brainstorming is a creative process where a person or group sits down with a problem in mind and spontaneously contributes solutions to that problem. Brainstorming methods can be as simple as making lists or as detailed as making a mind map. It usually happens during the beginning stages of a project, and its goal is to end up with a large number of ideas to help define the problem and all of the possible creative solutions. You can brainstorm using a whiteboard, online software, or just a piece of paper and a pen.
3 Techniques for Effective Brainstorming Sessions
- Go for quantity. While brainstorming, you may feel yourself wanting to focus on only a small number of ideas—try to resist this urge! Coming up with as many of your own ideas as possible will help you unlock new avenues of thought, and you can keep building off of your old ideas to come up with better ones for even better brainstorming.
- Don’t judge the ideas. Creativity can be severely dampened by inhibitions; when you’re worried about the quality of every idea you have, you often won’t be able to generate enough ideas to really explore your imagination. For truly effective brainstorming, let yourself think freely and go wild—save the judgments for later.
- Brainstorm in a group of people. Where possible, try brainstorming with at least one other person. Everyone’s minds are a little different, and bringing a few team members in to offer ideas from different perspectives is often the best way to explore ideas you wouldn’t have come up with during individual brainstorming.
6 Steps of Brainstorming
The brainstorming process is the perfect way to generate great business ideas—for business experts and beginners alike—because it’s all about creative ideation and problem-solving, and it avoids putting limitations or restraints on your thoughts. If you want to start a new business but you’re not sure what kind of business model to use, following a few brainstorming steps can help you unlock your imagination and find just the right brilliant idea for a successful business.
1. Brainstorm Your Purpose
When brainstorming ideas for a business, a great starting point is to find the thing that will keep pushing you forward, otherwise known as your “why.” Why are you doing this? Why is it important?
There are three pillars of a business’s purpose:
- What you enjoy doing. You want your business to focus on something you enjoy—otherwise, you won’t enjoy running it. This can go beyond business and encompass hobbies and types of activities, like “telling a story.”
- What you are good at in life and at work. Ideally, your business should take advantage of the skills that you’ve already developed—whether that’s something as job-specific as coding or as universal as listening to people. You may not have the most experience in an industry, but think about this: Are you a person who knows a niche intimately for another reason? Might the people making products in a specific industry not have your unique ideas and knowledge about those products? You may know more about what you want to make than all of the people who are already making products like it.
- How you want to serve the world. The best way to come up with this list is to ask yourself what pain points you’re aware of—what is the unmet need that you can fill. If you’re having a hard time answering this question, consider making a log of every product, design, or process you come across that bothers you, and then offer a few solutions. During this process, it’s vital that you outline your potential customers, as well—who will you be serving, and how? Knowing your target audience and target market will help you further define your purpose.
While you’re brainstorming your purpose, you should constantly ask yourself “why”: Why doesn’t a certain product exist? Why isn’t a rudimentary task done in a more efficient way? Why hasn’t any product or service within a specific space evolved in a while?
2. Let Your Mind Wander
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Spanx founder Sara Blakely teaches you bootstrapping tactics and her approach to inventing, selling, and marketing products that consumers love.View Class
Give yourself some room to dream by putting yourself in a creative mindset. Go someplace where you know you won’t be interrupted—for instance, your bedroom, or somewhere in nature—and start by getting quiet. Spend a few minutes wiping your mind of other tasks and worries. Focus on creating a blank slate upon which to sketch some business ideas.
If you’re having a hard time finding out where you do your best thinking, try this: Every day for a week, spend 20 minutes brainstorming 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.
Once you have a good list of business ideas, it’s time to start doing some research to hone and focus the ideas. If you’re just starting out in your industry, then you may not know what questions to even ask about your business, so you should start by doing some basic research of your industry—do some Google searches of its history, or go to your local library and take out some books about the field you’re entering. That will prepare you with a knowledge that manufacturers may not expect from someone just entering their world and could engender some respect.
4. Filter Your Ideas
So, you’ve collected some solid ideas and done some research, but you still need to figure out which one is your idea so you can start making your business plan.
Three common filters that successful entrepreneurs will use to hone in on their top priorities are time, money, and resources. You can evaluate each idea based on those priorities to determine which creative ideas are really feasible for you. To evaluate your ideas, ask yourself these questions of every idea on your list:
- How hard is it going to be to make this product?
- How much will it cost to make?
- How many manufacturers will it take?
- How much will it cost to ship?
- How heavy is the product?
- How big of a team do you need to help you make and sell your product?
You can also use SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) to help evaluate your brainstorming ideas.
5. Name Your Business
It may seem strange to think about naming so early in the brainstorming process, but there’s a reason a name can help you early on: when you name something, it makes it feel more real. Giving your business or product a name now can help give your ideas life and energy.
To come up with some names for your business or product, try playing a little word-association game during your brainstorming session. Without thinking too hard, focus on your business and quickly write down the first five to ten words that come to mind. Now play around with those words—combine them or change a letter or two, and see what you can come up with.
6. Develop Your Idea Before You Share It
Communication and validation are part of human nature. When you come up with an idea you love, you may feel the need to share it right away with the people closest to you. But sharing your ideas too soon can cause problems: sharing ideas leads to immediate feedback, and that feedback may not always be helpful, even if it comes from a place of love or concern. You may be elated about your idea for a new product only to be met with doubt from your friends and family.
If you take the time to really work on and develop your idea—doing the market research, asking yourself all of the pertinent questions regarding your time, money, and resources—you’ll have thought about all of its potential successes and pitfalls. That means you’ll have answers ready when friends or family come at you with their skepticism. What’s more, any negative feedback you might get won’t likely lead to you abandoning your project; you can be confident in the work you’ve already done.
Even if you don’t share your idea with your friends and family right away, there are some people you should speak to about it. Consider getting lawyers and manufacturers involved early on—you’ll need people to help you create your prototype or defend your idea by establishing intellectual property rights or getting a patent.
Learn More About Entrepreneurship
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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