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September 6, 2015 // 8:00 AM

7 Brainstorming Tricks to Inspire Brilliant Ideas

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Coming up with fresh, new ideas isn't easy. And when your job requires churning them out on a daily basis, it can be easy to hit a wall. (Not to mention frustrating.)

That's why brainstorming sessions can be so helpful. But, as many of you probably know by experience, some brainstorming sessions are more productive than others. Ever been to a one where you left feeling like your team didn't really come away with anything useful? It's draining -- and it can feel like a waste of you and your team's time. Great brainstorming sessions, on the other hand, can be wonderfully revitalizing.

The best way to get the creative juices flowing isn't by sitting your team around a conference table and asking them to shout out ideas as they come to them. It's by creating an atmosphere that breaks people out of their traditional mindset.

Here are a few creative ways to help liven up your brainstorming sessions to improve your team's output of ideas.

Want to hear the story of how Disney came up with the idea for Frozen? Listen to this episode of HubSpot's podcast.

7 Brainstorming Tricks to Inspire Brilliant Ideas

1) Come up with bad ideas first.

The best brainstorming sessions come when everyone in the room feels comfortable throwing out all of their ideas, regardless of whether or not they're gold. But some members on your team might be worried they'll sound stupid or uninformed if they pitch ideas that aren't well thought-out. Studies have shown people are especially apprehensive when people in positions of power are present -- this apprehension can lead to major productivity loss in brainstorming groups.

One way to loosen people up and get the ideas flowing? Start out brainstorming sessions by spending 10 minutes coming up with a bunch of bad ideas first. You might throw one out yourself first to show them what you mean. This will help you set a much more open and playful tone than a formal atmosphere would. Gerry Graf of Barton F. Graf 9000 has his team come up with 4,000 bad ideas before coming up with good ones.

Once you've spent some time sharing throwaway ideas and having a few laughs, you can refocus on brainstorming ideas that could work. And who knows: An idea that isn't so great on its own could spark some really ingenous ones that inform the direction of the rest of the meeting.

2) Break and build ideas.

One way to turn a few ideas into many is by breaking them down or building them up. If you're starting with a really general theme, try breaking it down into parts and details and seeing if other ideas branch from it. Or, you can do the opposite, and build up a more specific idea to have it cover a broader perspective.

One way to break down or build up ideas is to have each person in the room jot down two or three ideas on their own pieces of paper. Then, have them trade papers with other members of their team and build off their coworkers' ideas. You can rotate papers several times, and start a discussion based off the new ideas that emerge.

3) Play word games.

Word games can be powerful ways to help remove you from the traditional mindset that tends to produce generic, unoriginal ideas. If you're trying to get out of an idea rut, try adding a few games to your meeting to drum up some out-of-the-box thinking.

One great word exercise is creating a "word storm." To create a word storm, write down one word, and then brainstorm a whole slew of words that come to mind from that first word. Try thinking about the function of that word, its aesthetics, how it's used, metaphors that can be associated with it, and so on. Let the ideas flow naturally, and don't over think it -- this is meant to be a creative exercise.

Once you've listed out a bunch of words, group them together according to how they're related to one another. The goal? To come up with those less obvious words or phrases your audience might associate with whatever project you're working on.

Image Credit: CoSchedule

You can record the word storm on a piece of paper or a whiteboard or by using this online word storm tool to create a visual map -- which you can save, export, and send to the team after the meeting. 

Mind mapping is another powerful brainstorming tool to visualize related terms and ideas. Create a diagram starting with a central idea, and then branch out into major sub-topics and then sub-sub-topics. You can create mind maps either on paper or a whiteboard or by using something like MindNode app.

Finally, another word game you could try is coming up with what Creative Bloq calls "essence words:" Words that capture the spirit, personality, and message you're trying to put across -- even if they seem crazy. You might find that it helps spark other ideas down the line.

4) Create a mood board.

Combining imagery, color, and visual-spatial arrangements can help surface emotions and feelings will spark fresh, new ideas. It's also been proven to significantly improve information recall in comparison to more conventional methods of learning.

While there are many ways to use visual prompts in brainstorming, creating a mood board is one of the most common -- especially in coming up with new branding and design concepts.

A mood board is simply a random collection of images, words, and textures focused on one topic, theme, or idea. Like with mind mapping, the visual components of the mood board can be anything branching off that central topic.

Image Credit: Behance

Mood boards can either be physical boards (e.g., a poster or cork board) or virtual (e.g., a Pinterest board). You can also use a tool such as the MoodBoard app to help you collect, organize, and share all the visual components needed for your board.

5) Play improv games.

Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like a little improvisation. This may sound silly, but hear me out: The more relaxed and playful the environment is (without being distracting), the more your team will feel comfortable thinking and sharing freely with one another.

Corey Blake, the CEO of RoundTable Companies, told The Huffington Post about a time he and his executive team opened a brainstorming session with a series of improv games. "That experience opened our minds and readied the team for play before diving into more traditional brainstorming," Blake said. "The result was a deeper dive into our exploration and more laughter and fun, which increased our aptitude for creativity."

If your team can relax briefly and laugh together, your creative energy will be much higher when you refocus on the project at hand.

6) Doodle.

Did you know that doodling can help spur creative insight, increase attention span, and free up short- and long-term memory?

Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution, wrote that, "When the mind starts to engage with visual language, you get the neurological access that you don't have when you're in linguistic mode."

While many brainstorming sessions are based on talking and reading, doodling helps people break out of the traditional mindset and think about familiar things in a different way, perhaps leading to unexpected connections.

What should you doodle? Here are two ideas from Brown's book:

  • Take an object and visually break it down into its tiniest parts. So if you start with the word "dog," you might draw paws, a tail, and a collar. Thinking about all the elements of that object and the environment it is found in will allow you to view an object in a new way.
  • "Take two unrelated things, like elephants and ice cream, and draw them in their atomized parts," writes Jennifer Miller for Fast Company. "Then create drawings that randomly fuse these parts together. Like trunk-cones or melting ears. Brown has used this technique to help journalists think up unique story angles."

Image Credit: FastCompany

7) Change your physical environment.

Switching up your physical environment isn't just a fun change of pace; it can actually affect the way your brain works. Neurobiologists believe enriched environments could speed up the rate at which the human brain creates new neurons and neural connections. That means that where you conduct your brainstorming sessions could have an affect on the ideas your team comes up with.

Try holding brainstorming sessions in rooms that aren't associated with regular team meetings. If you can't change the room itself, try changing something about the room to stimulate the brain, such as rearranging the chairs or putting pictures on the walls. Another idea is to have your team stand up and walk around while brainstorming to encourage fluid creativity.

What creative brainstorming techniques have worked for you and your team? Share with us in the comments.

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