Bernie Anderson
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Tips for Brainstorming: The Best Ways to Link Your Ideas

Free thinking is an important skill. And it is a skill. The ability to creatively solve problems is a key to leadership. Especially leadership that doesn't involve a position. It takes practice and some discipline, but anyone can get better at brainstorming.

Brainstorming is the first stage of creative thinking and imaginative problem solving. It helps to generate new ideas. And, perhaps more importantly, it links disparate ideas. In my mind this is the most helpful aspect of brainstorming.

How do we brainstorm effectively? Again, this is a discipline and and learned skill. I have a few tips for effective brainstorming.


Choose the time of day.

We are all different. Some of us work better early in the mornings. Others later in the day. But, there are studies which have proven that later in the day in the day is better for new idea generation. Schedule some time toward the end of the day to brainstorm new ideas. Use early time for more logical brainwork.

Choose your tool

Decide whether you want to go analog to digital. I get the versatility of a digital brain mapping tool like Scapple. Yet, I prefer to do brainstorming with analog tools. An empty table or desk with post-it notes and/or note cards. A simple sheet of paper or a legal pad are also fine. Go simple. It's easy to get distracted by a lot of the digital tools that are available. The goal is new ideas, not tools.

That said, Scapple is a great electronic tool because it allows for freedom while brainstorming.

Set a time limit.

Decide how long you are going to come up with fresh ideas. Set a a timer. Brainstorming can be done in five minutes or 50 minutes. For me the ideal time is 25 minutes of focussed idea generation. This is the time limit for a typical pomodoro.

Whatever your choose, make sure to set a timer and stick to the time.

Don't stop until the time is up.

While it's important to do as much idea generation as possible, and not go over - it is also important to fill every minute. Don't stop until the timer sounds. Get as many ideas down as you possibly can in your time. Time constraints amplify creativity.

Don't judge or editorialize your ideas.

As you write your ideas, don't judge your ideas. Just write. Some of the things you write will seem dumb. But it may not prove to be dumb. Don't judge your ideas until after getting everything out. This is the point of brainstorming.

Write down everything. No mater how inane.

In the spirit of not judging, write down every idea. However small, however silly it may seem. Write it down.

At the end of the day, you never know how your thinking will all fit together. Unrelated ideas can be synthesized once the brainstorming process is complete.

Use these principles to practice brainstorming.

As you get better at brainstorming, you will see a radical increase in creative thinking.