There are many books and articles about how to brainstorm with a group. But what about when you are alone? And you need to get some new ideas fast? I have been using a method for the last seven years in my workshops and also for myself, that has proven time and again to be both efficient and highly productive. You only need four simple tools (that you definitely have at your desk), and there are only 12 simple steps to follow. At the very least you will remember some forgotten ideas regarding your project, but at best you will have some new and maybe useful ideas to add to it.
- one pen
- one block of post-its in one colour and 4-6 post-its of a different colour
- a sheet of flip-chart paper (or else a large empty table)
- a countdown timer on your phone or tablet
- Make sure there is nothing on the table (or the sheet of flip-chart paper) except the block of post-its and the pen. If necessary, sit on the floor to do the exercise.
Set the countdown timer to 3 minutes and put it somewhere you can see it.
- With NOTHING IN YOUR HANDS, think of the idea/problem/project you want to brainstorm. Let your mind fill with images, questions, people, ideas, numbers, quotes, etc. related to the project.
- Wait until you feel anxious to start writing some of these ideas down. You should feel your hand nervously twitching with a desire to pick the pen up and write. When you feel this, grab the pen and start.
- Start the countdown on the timer and write the first idea on one of the post-its. Each post-it should only contain one idea. An idea can be expressed any way you want – in words, drawings or symbols. Learn how to properly peel off post-its here.
- The most important thing is to NEVER STOP WRITING ideas on post-its, even if the ideas are nonsense. Even if you have to write “no idea” on several post-its. The point is to keep writing. Don’t think, just write. The objective is to try and fill the page with post-its in 3 minutes. This is about quantity of ideas, not quality.
- When the timer runs out (make sure to set an alarm that sounds when the time is up) you MUST put down the pen. Even if you have more ideas in your head. Even if you are in the middle of writing an idea.
- Take a couple of minutes to read everything you have written on the post-its. You are not allowed to add anything or move any of the post-its. While you are reading allow the ideas you have written to generate other ideas in your mind.
- When your mind begins to fill with new ideas based on what you are reading, re-set the timer and start the process again. However, this time, when the timer runs out continue writing down ideas if you have them.
- When you are finished (you will be tired, even though you have only done 6 minutes work it takes a lot of mental effort to brainstorm like this) read what you have done and group the ideas into themes. You will probably find that all of the ideas fall into 3-4 motifs (our minds usually generate ideas like this).
- Throw away any ideas that are nonsensical or completely irrelevant.
- On the different coloured post-its (or with the marker pen) write a title for each group (i.e. each theme that has emerged) and stick the post-it beside each group.
- If you are brainstorming a presentation, then each of these groups should be a section of your talk. Remember to take a photo of your work as post-its have a habit of falling off the paper and I remember once a cleaner threw away a workshop’s entire work. Finally, if you are a team-leader or teacher, it is easy to run this exercise with a group of people all brainstorming individually.