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The Brainstorm Rainstorm: Techniques to Become Better Idea Generators

Brainstorming is vital for all business owners to do. Tapping into your creative side can help you and your business in many ways. Having a brainstorming session will help you generate new ideas, find new ways to generate income or revenue, come up with new business opportunities, create new products, services, or processes, improve the products, services, or methods you currently use, and generally become more productive. Michael Michalko, the author of Thinkertoys, states, “if you act like an idea person, you will become one.” The following are brainstorming tools to engage your brain, staff, and business into becoming sharper idea people.

The first step to sharpening your creative skills is changing your daily habits. Don’t always take the same route to work, and if you work remotely, find a way to change up the routine at home by sitting in a different area of your house, even for a few hours per week. Change your working hours, sleeping hours, and exercise hours. If you read the newspaper every day, choose a different one to read every week. Try cooking a different recipe. Change your hobbies; if you are an active golfer, try something else like bowling or running. While some of these changes may be easier to make than others, it’s critical to feed your mind with new information, ideas, and routes. It’s also possible you’ll find a new idea along the way.

Next, write down and keep all your ideas. Whether you go paperless and keep a file on your computer or pull out a shoebox is irrelevant. Whenever you have an idea or thought, add it to the file. When you see something interesting in an ad, a quote, cartoons or memes, or anything else that you see that may trigger an idea, add it to your file or box. This exercise is called the Brainbank, and the process of adding all your ideas to it is only part of the process. The next step in this exercise is to pull out a couple of those ideas you had written down and put them together to see if they generate a new concept for you. If not, reshuffle and try again. Eventually, two or more random thoughts and ideas will come together to provide you with exciting and intriguing ideas.

Think Right is another exercise to train your brain to become a better idea generator. J. P. Guilford, a psychologist, and pioneer in the study of creativity, developed an activity that helps thinking fluency and flexibility and improves the organization of complex projects like plots for books, scientific theories, plans for new businesses, and building systems that are interrelated and interconnected. The exercise is writing four-word sentences from the first four letters of each word in a set amount of time. For example, use the first letter of each word in the sentence below to write new sentences. The sentences do need to make sense but can be incomplete. Compete with your family, colleagues, or friend and see who can write the most in five minutes.

I don’t enjoy apricots

Lastly, create an idea log. This is a technique used by the CIA to solve problems. The idea log is different than the Brainbank. The idea log is used for solving problems. You will record ideas, facts, thoughts, questions, and anything else that comes up. CIA agents will then use all the information to focus on all the ideas, comparisons, interrelationships, and data relating to a given problem. You can even break out the idea log into different sections pertaining to your business, such as marketing, corporate, selling, products, etc.

Now that you have some tools to sharpen your creative side, it’s vital to know that goals are equally as important as ideas. Before looking for ideas, ensure you have a goal in mind. Keeping a journal of problems or an issues list is a great way to look at what needs to be accomplished inside your business. Additionally, before you begin solving the problem, make a list of benefits that may be gained if you and the team successfully solve the challenge. Ensure the list of benefits makes it worth putting this problem at the top of the list. Michael Michalko suggests squeezing as much out of the problem as possible by centering the challenge. First, write it as a definite question, beginning with “In what ways might I….? Next, Vary the wording of the challenge by substituting synonyms for keywords. After changing the keywords, stretch the challenge to see the broader perspective. Lastly, squeeze the challenge to see the narrow perspective by dividing it into subproblems, solve the subproblems, and keep asking “how else” and “why else.”

Taking the time to brainstorm using new techniques could open the flood gates for your business. You may find yourself with a brand-new business or finding solutions to problems you and your team have been stumped on for a while. To get the most out of the brainstorming techniques and tips listed here, engage your entire team, and give them space and time to get creative. As business owners and leaders, we must remember our team is our most valuable asset, and tapping into their collective knowledge can only help us grow- both as leaders and in business.

Reference: Michalko, M. (2006) Thinkertoys: A handbook of creative-thinking techniques. (2nd ed.). Ten Speed Press.

Jenipher Cornelius

Jenipher Cornelius

I focus on the strategy, leadership development, and operational success of our member experience. As part of the executive team, I helped create the Member Success and Engagement group to solely focus on our current members. Relationship Management is our core value on the MSE Team. Coaching and training group leaders to ensure group meetings are productive, efficient, and enjoyable.

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