21 brainstorming techniques to boost creativity

Unleash your creativity and foster collaboration with 21 powerful brainstorming techniques that will supercharge your innovation and problem-solving abilities.



Craft Author: Tom Norman
Tom Norman

Innovation is the lifeblood of every successful team. Creative brainstorming techniques can pave the way for groundbreaking ideas and solutions. Here's how you can amplify your creative power and spark collaboration.

What is brainstorming?

While most of us have been involved in a brainstorming session at some point, it's worth taking a closer look at what brainstorming truly is, and why it’s an effective method for generating ideas.

At its core, brainstorming is a collaborative process designed to spur innovative thinking, tap into the group's collective knowledge, and generate a pool of ideas. It is a creative problem-solving technique that encourages free thinking and an open exchange of ideas without judgment or criticism.

🎯 The primary goal of brainstorming is not to find an immediate solution but to expand the horizon of possibilities.

Brainstorming serves as a conduit for collaboration and innovation, two crucial elements for successful problem-solving. Collaboration allows diverse perspectives to intermingle, leading to the conception of ideas that may not have been discovered individually. It transforms the problem-solving process into a team effort, encouraging mutual understanding and fostering a sense of community.

Innovation, on the other hand, is stimulated by the open, non-critical environment that brainstorming cultivates. By setting a stage where any idea, no matter how unconventional, is welcomed, it encourages out-of-the-box thinking and pushes the boundaries of the familiar. This free flow of ideas can lead to surprising and novel solutions, transforming seemingly impossible problems into unique opportunities.

In essence, brainstorming is not just about finding an answer, but also about questioning, exploring, and pushing the boundaries. It leverages the power of collective intelligence to ignite innovation and foster collaboration, serving as a potent tool in any team's arsenal.

How to run a brainstorming session

Effective brainstorming starts with clearly defining the problem. After that, generate as many ideas as possible without evaluating or filtering them. Encourage wild and unconventional ideas - remember, there are no wrong answers in brainstorming. Once you've gathered a substantial list of ideas, start evaluating, grouping, and refining them.

Brainstorming may seem like an unstructured process where ideas are thrown around randomly, but for it to be truly effective, it needs to be guided by certain principles and rules. Here's a closer look at how to orchestrate a fruitful brainstorming session:

1. Define the Problem Clearly: Start by ensuring everyone understands the problem or the question at hand. A clear, concise problem statement provides direction and focus, setting the stage for relevant and applicable ideas.

2. Encourage Open Participation: Make sure that everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas. This includes creating an environment of psychological safety where no idea is ridiculed or dismissed, and everyone's input is valued.

3. Emphasize Quantity Over Quality: The goal of a brainstorming session is to generate as many ideas as possible. The more ideas you have, the higher the chances of stumbling upon an innovative solution. Encourage wild and out-of-the-box ideas; this is not the stage for evaluation or criticism.

4. Build on Others' Ideas: Brainstorming is a collaborative process. Encourage participants to listen to others' ideas and build upon them. This can lead to surprising new directions and innovative solutions.

5. Avoid Criticism: During the ideation phase, there should be no criticism or debate. Any form of judgment can hinder the free flow of ideas and inhibit creativity.

6. Capture Everything: Record every idea, no matter how far-fetched it might seem. This ensures that no potential solution is lost and provides a comprehensive list of ideas that can be reviewed and evaluated later.

7. Review and Refine: After the brainstorming session, review the ideas. Now is the time to evaluate, categorize, and refine the suggestions, identifying the ones that are most promising for further exploration or implementation.

Brainstorming, when done effectively, can unlock immense creativity and lead to surprising and innovative solutions.

Brainstorming techniques

While traditional brainstorming has its merits, it sometimes helps to try a new approach in order to push the team's thinking further. Here are 21 techniques to boost your creativity:

1. Brainwriting: Participants jot down their ideas individually before passing their paper to the next person who builds upon them. Ideal for quieter groups where some may be hesitant to speak up, this technique ensures every voice is heard.

2. Reverse Brainstorming: Flip the problem on its head by asking how you could cause it. Perfect for problems that seem too familiar or for shaking up traditional thought patterns.

3. Rolestorming: Participants brainstorm in the role of a specific character, offering a unique perspective. This is valuable when trying to understand a customer's needs or viewpoint.

4. Round Robin Brainstorming: Participants share ideas in turns, ensuring equal participation. It's particularly useful in diverse teams, where different backgrounds can provide unique insights.

5. Rapid Ideation: Setting a time limit to generate as many ideas as possible prevents overthinking. This works well when time is limited or to kickstart a new project.

6. Starbursting: Asking as many questions as possible about the problem or idea provides deeper understanding, making it beneficial in the early stages of project development.

7. The Five Whys: By asking "why?" five times, you uncover the root cause of a problem. This technique is excellent for solving complex problems where the root cause is not immediately apparent.

8. SWOT Analysis: Identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats can aid balanced decision-making. It's particularly effective when exploring new initiatives or evaluating competitors.

9. Mind Mapping: Drawing a map of related ideas visually shows connections and can stimulate new ideas, making it ideal for individual brainstorming or for complex problems with many related elements.

10. The Six Thinking Hats: Participants take turns adopting different kinds of thinking, encouraging multiple perspectives. This technique is particularly effective in groups prone to groupthink or polarization.

11. SCAMPER: A checklist triggering new ideas by asking questions based on Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. This method is particularly useful when trying to improve an existing product or process.

12. Affinity Diagramming: Ideas are written on cards or sticky notes and then grouped based on their natural relationships. This is best used when dealing with large amounts of data or ideas, helping to organize them into meaningful categories.

13. Nominal Group Technique: Participants brainstorm individually before each idea is discussed and ranked by the group. It is useful for decision-making processes and ensures equal participation and consensus building.

14. The 635 Brainwriting Method: A team of 6 participants generate 3 ideas each in 5 minutes, then pass their list to the next person to build upon. This technique works well in diverse teams and helps in generating a large number of ideas quickly.

15. Storyboarding: Visualizing a process or story through a sequence of illustrations. This is ideal for projects involving user experiences or service design, as it helps in understanding user journeys and exploring ideas from a narrative perspective.

16. Gap Filling: Identify where you are now and where you want to be, then brainstorm ways to fill the gap. This method is suited for strategic planning and setting goals, providing a clear direction for your brainstorming efforts.

17. Trigger Method: Use visual or semantic stimuli to trigger new ideas or associations. This can help to break thinking patterns and inspire creativity, useful in situations where a fresh perspective is needed.

18. The Lateral Thinking Method: Encourage unconventional thinking and look at the problem from new and unexpected angles. This technique is valuable when traditional solutions have failed, and a completely new approach is needed.

19. Matrix Diagramming: Compare two or more related aspects using a two-dimensional chart. The intersections can reveal creative solutions, making it ideal for complex problems where multiple factors need to be considered.

20. Wishing: Encourage participants to think big without constraints. This method can help to dream big and challenge limitations, perfect for visionary sessions and innovation strategies.

21. Problem Reversal: Turn the problem on its head. Instead of asking how to achieve something, ask how you could prevent or destroy it. This is particularly useful when facing stubborn problems, as it leads to a better understanding of the problem and can generate creative solutions.

How brainstorming fosters collaboration

Brainstorming is more than an idea-generating activity. It promotes team collaboration, helping members understand different perspectives, and fostering respect for diverse thinking. As a collective process, it creates a sense of ownership among team members, fostering better alignment and shared goals.

Innovation doesn't come from a vacuum - it's the result of collective minds working together. Use these brainstorming techniques to unlock your team's creative power, solve problems in innovative ways, and foster an environment of collaboration. With the right approach, brainstorming can be the ignition switch that drives your team's creative engine.