November 11, 2021 by Amanda Reill
When you think of brainstorming, you may imagine a room full of people clamoring over each other and a whiteboard scribbled with ideas. It may conjure up memories of sitting alone with a notepad, scratching a pro/con list, or scouring your inner being for inspiration.
There are actually more methods to this practice than “quantity over quality,” which is what we usually envision when we hear the word “brainstorming.” Whether alone or in a group, there are tons of brainstorming techniques for folks to choose from.
1. Edgecrafting. Edgecrafting pushes your ideas to the edge - if there were no limits, no obstacles, no doubts whatsoever - what would you do? What would be the absolute ideal way to solve this problem?
If the topic at hand has to do with the client’s future, how can you help them get to the “edge” of their goals, rather than settling for something less than their abilities? Do they want to start a really good financial services firm, or do they want to start the best financial services firm? And why would it be the best? How would it stand out?
The idea here is to elicit the most unique aspect of your client’s business or service. Then, help them think of ways they can leverage this unique trait to its fullest extent possible. You can learn more about edgecrafting from the originator here.
2. Starbursting. This brainstorming technique uses questions rather than solutions to get at the heart of an issue. Starbursting is the exercise of coming up with questions about a topic or challenge you wish to tackle and writing them down around a six-pointed star. The questions fall under six categories: who, what, where, when, why, and how.
This technique tends to provide a more thorough way of brainstorming and may “catch” aspects of an issue that other methods may miss. The questions in the six categories can range from philosophical to practical - “Who is our theoretical target customer?” is written right next to “Who will lead the technology aspect?” These questions allow a person to think about all aspects of a challenge without being pressed to find immediate solutions.
3. 5 Whys Analysis. The 5 Whys Analysis is an excellent way to get at the root or underlying cause of an issue. For instance, your client continually struggles arriving on time to commitments or meeting deadlines. Begin to ask “why” questions:
It’s possible that the client now knows they need to eat more at dinner. It’s also possible there’s still more to the story. The number ‘5’ in the 5 Why Analysis is arbitrary. The idea is to ask questions that lead your client to the very core of their problem. From there, your client can address the underlying cause. In this case, that’s the need to eat a better dinner, rather than getting stuck in a guilt-ridden cycle of fighting themselves over the snooze button.
4. Mind Mapping. Mind mapping is a technique that helps a person group similar ideas on a piece of paper to see how they relate. How to mind map:
1. Draw a circle in the middle of the page with the topic written inside.
2. Draw lines coming from that circle that represent related topics
3. Draw lines coming from those circles that represent topics related to those topics.
The person allows themselves to go down rabbit trails but doesn’t “get lost” because they’re creating a map in the process. This technique is beneficial for visual learners and helps create a greater sense of how the whole picture fits together.
5. Reverse Brainstorming or Worst Idea Ever. Reverse brainstorming breaks down mental blocks by tackling the ridiculous - what is the worst possible way to solve this problem? What is the opposite of what we should do right now? This kind of thought process allows clients to see their problems from another perspective, which allows them to develop solutions for aspects of the problem they did not previously consider.
There has been a lot of research on this topic, and the conclusion is: both, strategically. Brainstorming alone has its obvious limitations: you’re only one brain, and you can only think of so many ideas. But brainstorming collectively has some less obvious downfalls: social and time pressures.
When possible, the best practice is to brainstorm alone or with one trusted individual (like a coach). This encourages people to take ownership of their ideas before they are influenced by others. Once the person has had a chance to brainstorm alone, bringing others into the fold can help further develop their ideas. And this type of hybrid brainstorming works just as well for teams as it does for individuals.
Brain-writing is a blend of individual and group brainstorming that is scientifically proven to be effective. In brain-writing, group members are given a set amount of time to write down a couple of ideas about the topic at hand. They pass the paper to the next person, who uses the previously written ideas as inspiration. The studies demonstrated that brain-writing encourages the positive elements of collective brainstorming while removing some of the social pressures like:
Brain-writing gives ample opportunity for all members to contribute to the brainstorming process and will likely create a larger tally of ideas.
Research hasn’t unequivocally affirmed the best and worst brainstorming practices, but there have been many studies to test different methods and their effectiveness. Quantity over quality has been the bedrock brainstorming since the term was invented - it emphasizes the importance of gathering as many ideas as possible while suspending judgment on the quality of those ideas. What the research does seem to agree on is that brainstorming is a strong tool in creative problem solving. Most brainstorming techniques generate many unique ideas.
As you review the different brainstorming techniques, consider which one is most closely aligned to your client and their topic. If your client is having trouble getting started, it might be best to start with reverse brainstorming and get the ridiculous out of the way. If they’re brimming with ideas about a new entrepreneurial adventure, starbursting may be a great place to start. Or, if they’re struggling with feelings of hopelessness or imposter syndrome, mind mapping may be the ticket to visualizing what’s impossible.
When in doubt, get out the trusty whiteboard and start writing. The most important thing is to get the ideas out of your client’s head and onto paper (or a whiteboard or computer) so they can assess their ideas all at once.
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Hood River, Oregon 97031