Brainstorming Techniques: 7 Creative Activities to Do Solo or as a Team
Brainstorming should be a fun, energized, and engaging activity. However our natural inclination seems to be ‘Let’s grab the white board and go around the table sharing ideas’. This does nothing to stimulate the idea generation process. All it manages to accomplish is putting people on the spot, and it is hard to channel one’s creative energy when all eyes are on you. It’s not long before the entire endeavor is derailed by the extroverts in the room as they dominate the conversation. Everyone fixates on the first two or three ideas that are presented, preventing others from speaking up.
If the point of brainstorming is to find inspiration that breathes new life into your projects and other endeavors then your team should actually feel inspired. We put together a list of both group and solo exercises to help your team get their creative juices flowing and contribute new and interesting ideas to the best of their ability. Note that some of these exercises are a little on the silly side, but that does not make them any less effective.
This technique is non-verbal and gives everyone a chance to chip in with thoughts and suggestions of their own. Have everyone write down three ideas relevant to the topic at hand, and after about five minutes pass their paper to the person next to them (right or left makes no meaningful difference). Once everyone has their neighbor’s paper in hand, have them build off of the ideas written down. Continue until every piece of paper is back in the hands of its original owner, and choose the ideas that inspired the most input from other team members.
This technique works better in smaller groups, so if you have a bigger team you can break them up into small teams. Each team can select their own idea for the group as a whole to choose from.
2. Mind Mapping
Mind mapping templates are not only commonly used in software to organize data, they are effective for organizing your thoughts as well. This strategy starts out by writing down the core issue that you want to address. Then write related words or phrases around the original written problem, particularly focusing on terms that describe your needs. For example, if the issue at hand is ‘health and safety compliance’ you could write ‘facility maintenance’. This is your first layer.
Your second layer is created by writing another word or phrase each the words and phrases from your first layer, adding ways that you can approach solving the issue at hand. For ‘facility maintenance’ you could write ‘maintenance plan’ or ‘CMMS’. Continue adding layers to the mind map until you reach actionable steps that can be used to draft a plan.
Mind mapping can take up a lot of space so have plenty of materials on hand for writing, though a whiteboard would be ideal.
3. Rapid Ideation
Oftentimes we struggle to present ideas because each person is only allowed to contribute one at a time. Other times we filter out ideas that we think are too silly or stupid for fear of judgement. And then there is the dreaded option paralysis, in which we become so overwhelmed by all the possibilities that our brains overload and then shut down. Option paralysis can be especially difficult for neurodivergent individuals, like team members with ADHD, making it harder for them to chip in their ideas because their brains process and present information differently.
Rapid ideation prevents all of that. This technique is not only accommodating for different ways of thinking, it’s helpful for people who freeze up under pressure, team members who are struggling to stay engaged (let’s be honest, these meetings are not very exciting), and it aids in time management while still letting everyone work at their own pace.
Present the issue at hand to the team as a whole and then set a time limit for them to write down as many ideas as possible. You can ask for a specific number of ideas, set the time limit however you please, and use the strategy for groups of any size. So long as people have something to write on, from blank paper to post-it notes to white boards. It works well at any time, anywhere.
The best part about rapid ideation? There is no judgement. Individuals are free to write down whatever ideas come to mind without having to worry about overthinking things or worrying about what others will think of their ideas. There are virtually no limits so the ideas written down can be as silly or as serious as they please.
Rather than create new ideas or elaborate on existing ones, the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. method encourages team members to examine the same ideas from different angles. S.C.A.M.P.E.R. is more than just a cute name. It stands for-
- Substitute. What if we switch A with B?
- Combine. What if we put A and B together?
- Adapt. How do we change the project so it can adapt in a different context?
- Modify. What needs to change to create more value?
- Put to different use. How might we be able to use this project differently than intended?
- Eliminate. What elements can we remove without drastically changing the subject at hand?
- Reverse or Reorganize. How can we move things around to increase efficacy and productivity?
You do not need to use every question, and having different options makes the technique versatile and applicable to all kinds of projects. This means it can be used to address existing problems as well as hypothetical projects. By asking these specific questions S.C.A.M.P.E.R. encourages people to look at a problem without overthinking.
5. Alter Egos
This group technique is meant to be fun and open ended. Rather than create your own ideas you can ask the group how a specific person, real or imaginary, would approach the topic at hand. What would Captain America do to organically increase traffic to your website? How might Johnny Cash write your next newsletter? What type of content creation would Thomas Edison be most interested in pursuing? How would Darth Vader generate more leads on LinkedIn? What would happen if the Cat in the Hat ran your social media accounts? You get the idea.
It might sound nonsensical, but you would be surprised at how effective this technique can be. After all, coming up with ideas from the perspective of another person does not mean your team cannot implement them (though we don’t recommend seriously considering each one, of course).
6. Stepladder Technique
This is another technique that allows people to contribute their own ideas without being influenced by anyone else’s suggestions. It is ideal for medium-sized groups, teams of no more than fifteen people, and it promotes individual creativity while enhancing the collaborative spirit.
Start out by sharing the topic or question with everyone in the room. Have the team leave the room except for two people, and let them discuss their ideas. When they are done, bring another person into the room and let them share their own ideas before hearing those of anyone else. Continue this process until everyone is back in the room.
Not only does everyone get a turn, it makes it easier for introverts and nervous team members to share without worrying about being scrutinized by everyone in the room.
7. Change of Scenery
You would be amazed at how much our thoughts and feelings are influenced by our immediate environment. Take the team outside for some fresh air or have your meeting at a cafe down the street. It will help everyone relax and not feel so restricted by a corporate mentality. It’s a simple technique that works well for groups of all sizes, and it can be altered accordingly to accommodate your numbers.
Some people work better in a collaborative setting while others thrive when they alone are at the helm. Provide your team members with the option to participate in different brainstorming exercises so they can feel in their element. The more you allow them to work in a way that best suits their individual thought process, the better they will be at coming up with creative strategies and novel approaches to problem solving.
More minds around you means more ideas added to the list. Those minds might not be part of your company. If you want to create a strong collaborative relationship with an entity outside the office then contact a results based growth marketing company to lend you their expertise.