This is a result achieved by ten employees who brainstormed for an ad campaign guided by Alex Osborn, the “father” of brainstorming.

Brainstorming has always been a huge buzzword, especially in project management. No wonder, as the process develops creative problem solving skills, the study shows. The better your team brainstorms – the higher chances you get to find the perfect solution. 

What are the most productive brainstorming techniques? How to brainstorm ideas properly and what tools can make it a child’s play for you and your team?

Let’s start with the origins of brainstorming and its meaning. Cover photo by MING Labs.

Origins and Definition of Brainstorming

The concept was developed by Alex Osborn in 1942 who called it a “think up” process. Later, Osborn renamed it to “brainstorming” in his 1948 book Your Creative Power. In 1953, it got into mainstream use after the publication of his next title Applied Imagination.

According to the method’s inventor, to brainstorm means “using the brain to storm a creative problem.”

But what does it look like in practice? Discover some useful tips and tricks to brainstorm effectively.

The 9 Best Brainstorming Techniques for a Winning Team

Grab the most effective brainstorming techniques to unlock the creative potential of your collaborative team and generate great ideas.

  1. Mind Mapping

Mind mapping, alternatively called concept mapping, is a nonlinear, graphical way to represent concepts. A mind map helps arrange ideas in a structured manner and results in a 30% increase in creativity.

Radiant thinking lies in the core of this brainstorming technique. You have a central theme and generate closely-related ideas outward. For this, you should create a spider-like or branched diagram.

How to mind map:

  • Put the main topic in the center of the page
  • Add branches and label them with subtopics
  • Come up with ideas for each subcategory and draw more branches
  • Take advantage of visual cues (symbols, icons, images, colors, etc.)

Mind mapping tools: MindMup, MindMeister, Freemind

Shawn Plummer, CEO of The Annuity Expert emphasizes the significance of radiant thinking at the core of this brainstorming technique. “Mind mapping, also known as concept mapping, provides a nonlinear, graphical representation of concepts. It’s a powerful tool for structuring ideas and has been shown to result in a 30% increase in creativity. By starting with a central theme and generating closely-related ideas outward, using a spider-like or branched diagram, mind mapping facilitates innovative thinking.”

  1. Starbursting

Starbursting is a form of visual idea generation that fosters the flow of creative juices by brainstorming questions and only afterwards answering them systematically.

How to use this method:

First, draw a six-pointed star with each point labeled with a question-word:

  • Why
  • What
  • Who
  • Where
  • When
  • How

Afterwards, you should brainstorm and write down as many questions as you can (three-five at minimum) next to each point. Then, start answering those in turn.

Starbursting can be applied at the ideation stage of a product development process, for instance.

Starbursting templates: Visual-Paradigm, FigJam, Klaxoon

  1. Figure Storming

What would Elon Musk say? What would Princess Diana do?

The figure storming tactic implies discussing how a famous celebrity or any known-by-everyone person, who isn’t present in the room, would think or do to tackle the challenge. Such figures can also be movie/book characters, historical personalities, industry leaders, etc.

How to brainstorm with this method

Andrew Pierce, CEO at LLC Attorney, explains how figure storming can be implemented by design teams:

“When brainstorming new design ideas, design teams can hold several figure storming sessions. These may be dedicated to only one figure per session, when the whole team thinks and acts like the chosen person.

E.g.: How would Superman design this prototype?

Alternatively, every team member picks a separate character and puts forward ideas taking on a particular role.”

SCAMPER templates: EdrawMind, Miro, SlideModel SCAMPER Board

  1. Storyboarding

A storyboard is a collection of sketches explaining a certain scenario. Storyboarding (scenario building) is a visual tactic to tell a story that supports mental activities and channels creativity in the right direction.

Originally, animators and filmmakers implemented storyboarding as a method to draw a scene-by-scene vision of films. Today, it’s widely applied in project management for creating low-cost prototype storyboards, planning, and illustrating the steps required for given projects. It can be a great tool to see a broader picture of a project before you fill the Gantt chart with the previously sketched tasks, for example.

How to create a storyboard for a project:

  • Identify the project scope
  • Make a list of steps and draw the frames for each of them
  • Start sketching and writing down ideas for each frame
  • Use arrows to demonstrate how each point is related to the next one
  • Add timelines

Storyboarding tools: StoryboardThat, Storyboarder, MakeStoryboard

  1. Five Whys Method

Did you know that this method was created in the Toyota Motor Corporation?

It dates back to the 1950s when Taiichi Ohno first tried it for Toyota’s production line. Later, in 2011, Eric Ries explained it thoroughly for startups in his book The Lean Startup.

The Five Whys method, otherwise called 5 Whys analysis, is an interrogative technique to determine cause-and-effect relationships in a specific topic or the root cause of a problem.

How to do a five whys exercise:

  • Gather a cross-functional team (cross-functional collaboration can help you look at the problem from different angles)
  • Outline a problem
  • Ask the first Why? question
  • Ask the next “whys” in a consequential order as many times as it feels necessary (don’t limit it to only five questions, despite the title of the method, because some problems may have deeply-rooted causes and may require more drilling down)
  • When answering each question, discard suppositions and concentrate only on cold facts

According to Jesse Hanson, Content Manager at Online Solitaire & World of Card Games: “The Five Whys method involves asking a series of ‘Why?’ questions to delve into cause-and-effect relationships. It’s a collaborative exercise that encourages cross-functional teams to discard assumptions, focusing solely on factual information. The iterative nature of asking ‘Why?’ allows for a thorough exploration, surpassing the titular constraint of only five questions, as some problems may have complex, deeply-rooted causes requiring further investigation.”

  1. SWOT analysis

SWOT is a highly-recognizable abbreviation that stands for:

S – Strengths

W – Weaknesses

O – Opportunities

T – Threats

It is credited to Albert Humphrey who developed it in the 1960s and 1970s while working at Stanford Research Institute.

“A SWOT framework is an ideal tool for outlining a clear and easily implementable strategic roadmap for business,” states Jim Pendergast, Senior Vice President at altLINE Sobanco. “It helps ensure that you begin on the right foot, have all the required information, and prepare everything needed to successfully execute your plan. This preparatory stage is a springboard for your business development.”

Indeed, a SWOT analysis is one of the top business evaluation strategies. 

How to analyze SWOT of a business:

  • Break the brainstorming process into the four parts.
  • Start with enlisting the strengths – e.g., unique selling proposition, innovative potential, high expertise and professionalism of employees, etc.
  • Make a list of weaknesses – limited funding, lack of technical assets, etc.
  • After you’ve brainstormed all the strong and weak points, you can move on to opportunities – new target demographic, partnerships, training, and so on.
  • When it comes to threats, aside from some common barriers (cybersecurity dangers, economic downturns, or operational risks), you should also brainstorm the legal issues and challenges that may arise in business.

SWOT Analysis apps: MindView, Alignment.io, Creately

  1. The Crawford’s Slip Method (CSM)

Crawford’s slip writing is a way to collect a large number of one-word or one-sentence ideas written on individual slips of paper.

Photo: Brands&People

CSM mobilizes brainpower, improves the thinking process, and boosts productivity.

How to use CSM:

  • Announce a topic to attendees
  • Hand out a stack of slips to each participant (15–20 per person)
  • Allocate a timespan (at least 10–15 minutes)
  • Let brainstormers pen down their ideas one per sheet and take notes
  • Get the slips handed in, organize them into categories, remove duplicates, and analyze
  • Report the results

As Stephan Baldwin, Founder of Assisted Living, says,: “CSM offers a structured yet dynamic approach to idea generation. By providing participants the freedom to jot down quick thoughts on individual slips, it fosters a diverse array of ideas. The subsequent organization and analysis of these slips help uncover valuable insights, making Crawford’s slip writing an effective strategy for collaborative brainstorming.”

  1. SCAMPER

SCAMPER is a technique for creative thinkers that helps explore ideas from different perspectives by asking questions. It’s often used for problem solving and innovating.

For example, it can help you think outside the box, look at problems from different angles, and develop a robust digital transformation roadmap with rapid innovative solutions.

How to SCAMPER:

Ask the following questions that relate to each letter in the acronym:

S (Substitute) – What can be substituted or swapped?

C (Combine) – What can be merged? What new collaborations can you try?

A (Adapt) – What new tendencies should you adjust to? What adaptations can you make?

M (Modify, magnify, or minify) – What modifications should you implement?

P (Put to another use) – Where else can this product/service be helpful?

E (Eliminate) – What can you remove or reduce?

R (Reverse or rearrange) – What if you could reorganize, reengineer, or even try a reverse order?

  1. Brain-netting

Simply put, brain-netting is brainstorming online. It’s a collective thinking technique for distributed teams that enhances the creative decision-making and collaborative potential of remote employees.

According to Hubstaff’s research, remote work enhances focus and creative problem-solving skills, making effective brainstorming even more crucial. The study underscores the need to explore the most productive brainstorming techniques to capitalize on the increased focus of remote teams.

How to brain-net:

“Remote communication and collaboration tools are must-haves for brain-netting,” emphasizes Robert Kaskel, Chief People Officer at Checkr.

“Your team can start brain-netting via Slack or create a shared Google Doc where everyone will type random ideas whenever they appear. You should also recognize your teammates’ efforts to brain-net and use praise as a motivational tool. For example, you may give kudos or send individual thank-you notes,” Robert says.

Take advantage of the following remote collaboration tools to brain-net:

  • For chatting: Slack, Chanty, Mattermost
  • For video conferencing: FreeConference, Google Meet, Skype
  • For creating collaborative documents: Zoho Docs, Notion, ClickUp Docs

Tools for online brainstorming (brain-netting): Ideaboardz, Mural.co, Ziteboard

Last Note on Brainstorming Methods

If you want your team to unleash creativity, you should definitely use these effective brainstorming tactics.

Encourage open collaboration in your team and generate more innovative ideas. 

As Loran Nordgren, Professor at Kellogg School of Management, put it: “Our best ideas are there. They just require more digging.”

Read next: The Best AI Copywriting Tools and Their Uses

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