Best Brainstorming Activities and Tools
The concept of brainstorming is a group-thinking approach that asks users to eliminate inhibitions or judgements and just share ideas. Though the term was made famous by advertising legend Alex F. Osborn in his 1953 book “Applied Imagination,” the structure for this sort of activity was actually laid out in an earlier publication of his called “Your Creative Power.” In it, he describes creative thinking as an attempt to “get your foot in the door,” and lays out two main principles of this strategy: To defer judgement, and to reach for quantity. Even today, brainstorming is rooted in the same tenets, in which any ideas thrown out are written down. These approaches are all great ways to get the creative juices flowing.
Mind mapping is the attempt to create a visual representation of a thought process, specifically the relationship between ideas. Simply jot down a goal or challenge and invite your team members to start throwing out related issues. As the suggestions pile up, start drawing lines between ideas to see how they connect back to the original issue. For example, if you’re looking to improve profits for the coming quarter, you may find that many of the obstacles preventing you from doing so are connected to customer service or a supply chain problem.
This strategy has traditionally been used as a way to evaluate and inform decision making. However, it’s found a new home with collaborative creativity, especially in the corporate landscape. It even made it into a recent episode of the HBO series “Silicon Valley.” SWOT Analysis takes its name from its own process, as ideas are broken down into categories of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. In the same way this works for a team deciding if a new project should be funded, it also helps to generate new ideas by forcing participants to consider questions like “Are there weaknesses we’re not addressing? How about strengths?”
This trend originated in Silicon Valley during the 1970s, but takes its approach from many activities we engaged in as children. The idea is to introduce the idea of play into a collaborative creative space, which allows tired workers to free their mind through a series of games and activities to stimulate thinking. This could also incorporate improvisational techniques, allowing people to think on their feet. Examples might be a hot potato kind of game, in which a ball tossed around a circle and ideas are shouted out by those who catch it, or a game of checkers in which a new idea needs to be suggested every time an opponent jumps you.
As the new mantra for work may be “Work smarter, not harder,” many companies have turned to the world of digital apps to help facilitate these brainstorming sessions. Here are a few leading names and how they can help.
- Bubbl.us – Allows users to create intricate mind maps with a colorful and appealing visual layout.
- Popplet – This app also provides a digital space for the creation of mind mapping but introduces a helpful collaboration tool that can be used by anyone from a high-powered executive to a group of cash-strapped college students.
- Moodstream – Creating a judgement-free zone takes patience and calmness. This app allows you to augment the group-thinking environment with relaxing ambient music, soundscapes, a host of visualizations.
Trying to be creative may feel counterintuitive, but it isn’t always guaranteed that when creative work needs to be done, inspiration will also strike. By using these and other brainstorming activities, you’re not only letting people speak their minds and get those ideas heard, but also to get out of their own way and let their minds work unencumbered. Whether you’re in the classroom or the boardroom, anyone can use these approaches to get inspired.