Whether it’s creating an advertisement for your new product launch, figuring out how to optimize that process, or just coordinating a new team bonding activity, you’re going to want to start your planning with a set of ideas.

So, where do ideas come from? 

Bingo! Brainstorming.

What is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a focused approach to creating a lot of new ideas at once. While usually done in group settings like schools and workplaces, brainstorming can also be done individually. 

No matter who you’re brainstorming with or how, the goals of this process will always be to generate new ideas, reflect on shared thoughts, and select the winning idea(s). 

The most common challenge people face in brainstorming is not knowing where to start. Lucky for you, we’ve gathered 15 of our top methods and a few free templates so you can jump into finding your new idea. 

Write it down!

Never forget an idea you have by quickly jotting it down in Fellow. Keep all your work notes in one place to keep track of it all.

15 brainstorming techniques to try

1 Mind mapping

Mind mapping is a great visual tool for brainstorming and works especially well for individuals. It involves placing your main topic in the centre of the page and drawing subtopics around the main topic. Each subtopic can also break down into further topics, until you land on the idea you like. 

This is also a great approach for someone who prefers to be more hands on, as you can draw out your map and build relationships between your topics and subtopics. 

2 SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis is a popular tool that’s used when analyzing a specific situation or business environment. To start a SWOT analysis, build a 2×2 table with each letter of the acronym representing a quadrant:

  • S – Strengths (i.e., high employee retention)
  • W – Weaknesses (i.e., low margin on products sold)
  • O – Opportunities (i.e., growing industry for X)
  • T – Threats (i.e., rise of competition)

It’s important to note that strengths and weaknesses look internally to the business, while opportunities and threats look at what’s outside of the business.

3 Brain dump

Much like how it sounds, brain dumping is just taking all of your thoughts and getting them out onto paper. This method is especially helpful when you’re feeling overwhelmed with a task and are unsure of how to approach it. At least by getting your ideas from your brain to your notebook, you can clear some new room for processing the next steps. 

4 Roundtable

The roundtable method is one of the most traditional forms of brainstorming. This method involves seating your team around a table. Each person will have a piece of paper to write ideas on, and will share with the team out loud. This process continues until no more ideas can be found. 

Note that some variations exist that have a specific order of announcing ideas or that set time periods in which participants think of ideas. 

5 Starbursting

While many brainstorming techniques look to find answers, the starbursting technique looks to find new questions. In doing so, you can judge if your solution-finding endeavours are headed in the right direction. The idea is to dive deeper into the initial topic and reveal more layers. 

If you’re looking for inspiration, try reflecting on:

  • Who is this affecting?
  • What is really happening here? 
  • What is our goal?
  • When should we have a solution? Is timeline a factor?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • How did we face similar issues in the past? How did that work out?

6 ‘What if’ brainstorming

This approach is great for when you have an initial set of ideas, but want to further extend them. Put your thoughts far away from the norm and try to imagine the possibilities if the ideas really could work out. 

In a group setting, it’s helpful to practice this approach in a round robin format. Take one idea at a time and take turns putting a “What if …” statement around the idea.

7 Change of scenery

Often enough, the biggest roadblock to idea generation is that you’re not in a stimulating environment. Working in the same space can feel draining over time. Mix in working from a café or a new meeting room, or try thinking as you take a walk. 

Similarly, stepping away from your workspace to give your brain a chance to rest mid-brainstorm can also help inspire new ideas. 

8 Reverse brainstorming

Reverse brainstorming is essentially the opposite of problem solving. Instead of searching for solutions, reverse brainstorming has you think of more problems and what causes these problems. Rather than thinking of how you can make X better, think of how you could make X worse. 

When you have these answers brainstormed, you can flip them around to be positive solutions for your problem.

9 Collaborative brainwriting

Brainwriting is a team-focused approach to problem solving where each member of the team can write down ideas on a piece of paper anonymously. This is different from roundtables because no one will share their ideas out loud. A key benefit here is that each person can leverage their unique knowledge and understanding, and is not influenced by the ideas they hear from teammates. 

10 Step-ladder technique

The step ladder technique is a 5-step process for teams that includes:

  1. Explaining the problem. This is best done before the meeting so attendees can have time to reflect and come prepared. 
  2. Building the ladder. Take two members of your group and discuss the problem together.
  3. Continuing the process. Bring a third member into the group to add to the discussion.
  4. Completing the ladder by continuing this process until your group has all presented their ideas.
  5. Making a decision

11 Brain netting

Brain netting is a brainstorming approach that works well for virtual teams. Through digital tools and platforms, teams can collaborate on ideas in real time, from anywhere. This approach is perfect for both planned and impromptu sessions.

12 Rapid ideation

This method is about getting as many ideas out as possible in a short time frame. Using sticky notes on a board or jotting onto a whiteboard (virtually or in person), have each member of your team go nuts rapidly generating ideas. Don’t worry about creating duplicates or having ideas that don’t make complete sense. The point of this approach is to not overthink the ideas. This approach is best done in smaller groups, and we recommend setting a timer for added adrenaline.

13 Random word picker

Simple, yet effective. Just as it sounds, this technique involves picking random words to generate new ideas. You could pick your random word from flipping open a book and choosing the 7th word on the page, or use a random word generator online. 

When you have your selected word, you can apply some of the other techniques mentioned here to branch off new ideas.

14 Gap analysis

The gap analysis approach is beneficial when you have a clear idea of where you are now and where you want to be in the future. 

Take a look at what’s missing from your current situation and determine what needs to be done to get there. Some areas to address include:

  • Financial resources
  • Human resources
  • Time
  • Physical assets
  • Information requirements

15 Drivers analysis

Last, but certainly not least, is the drivers analysis. This brainstorming technique is helpful when you understand what is happening, but you’re not really sure why it’s happening. It can be helpful for establishing motivations behind a challenge or problem. 

By combining this approach with other tools (like mind mapping), or by drawing out the process you’re optimizing, you can pinpoint areas that may be causing friction. From there, brainstorm the reasons why this challenge might be arising. 

Free brainstorming templates 

Brainstorming successfully is no easy feat. 

Working in distributed teams or solving problems independently can also add to the stress of idea generation. If you don’t have a brainstorming technique that works particularly well for you, we encourage you to continue trying new approaches. For older teams, switching up the approach to idea generation can be an impactful way to stimulate new discussions. 

No matter what or how you’re brainstorming, it’s important to remember that not all ideas have to be good ideas, and vice versa. The idea that you think might be a bad idea might just be the winner!