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11 tips for better brainstorms

I like to think I’m pretty decent at brainstorming. Over the years I’ve worked up this list of things that I try to keep in mind while leading a brainstorm. Regardless of leading or participating, or even just ideating to yourself, these tips have helped me out immensely.

1. change your environment
don’t use that same meeting room again! changing your physical environment changes your mindset. go to a bar or restaurant, go to a park, get out of your element. it helps. 

2. if you can’t change your environment, make it a war room
cover the walls with the documents, notes, source material, or other relevant things. use the entire space for this one purpose. make the room work for you & your ideas. 

3. write down as much as you can
capture what people are saying. capture things you’re thinking but not saying. capture as much as you possibly can, as words. 

4. put words into lists
look for patterns or themes in what you’re capturing, then arrange them into lists by type. the human brain is hardwired to find patterns and sort things, let it do it’s job!

5. number those lists
something magical happens when a list gets numbers (see also this blog post). our brains automatically assign a story or process to the items. they suddenly have rank and new correlations occur to us. 

6. mix and match your lists
once you have your numbered lists, get sorting! start to mix & match list items. see what 4 and B have to do with each other, explore cross-pollination between lists. 

7. use whiteboards or chalkboards
getting up out of your chair helps keep things moving. get up and grab a marker. draw boxes and arrows and venn diagrams. write some of the best lists you have up on a wall. the more eyes that are on something the better. 

8. sketch big things so everyone can see them
get out of your own sketchbook, and sketch something big. once everyone nods at it, THEN put it in your sketchbook. this is time to bounce things off each other, so be sure everyone can see what you sketch. 

9. make jokes
a serious brainstorm is a stale brainstorm. jokes trigger natural reactions in people to deal with surprise, the absurd, and find hidden truths. that’s why jokes are essential. jokes that are on topic are the best! 

10. talk about your ideas out loud
talk them out to a friend or partner. if no one is around and you’re brainstorming alone, talk them out loud to yourself. putting it into words forces a bit of crystallization that happens when you find the right words to describe it. that change is critical! be sure to capture the results!

11. make as many ideas as you can, then pick 1 or 2 to keep
ideas are easy to come up with, hopefully one or two of the ones you just had stick out to you as the really good ideas. go with that instinct. kill all the rest, that’s why cutting rooms HAVE floors. 

hope these help!