10 Ways to Brainstorm Better Ideas

By | July 17, 2016

Every now and then, I re-read an article which first appeared in Fast Company more than 10 years ago, called “Attention, Class! 16 Ways to Be a Smarter Teacher” by Chuck Slater. As he states at the beginning of the article, “In a fast-moving economy that is driven by ideas, an essential part of being a leader is being a good teacher.”

His reference to “ideas” has fascinated me as it relates to leadership and education, to the point that after re-reading the article last week, I sat down and wrote this article on how to better brainstorm ideas:

1. It’s not about you. It’s about the idea. Egocentric brainstorming never works. It’s similar to branding – you don’t own the idea, you only manage its relevance to your audience.

2. Know your audience. You can’t brainstorm any good idea unless you have a good understanding of your demographics and their needs and past behaviours.

3. Do your brainstorm in a compassionate, risk-free environment. The moment you allow negativity and pre-judgment to enter the brainstorming, it’s no longer brainstorming.

4. Ideas resonate more when the audience can experience them. If you have to explain the idea to the audience, it’s not an optimal situation. The idea must stand and be understood on its own.

5. Keep the idea simple, even when the thought behind it may be complex. There is no such thing as a complex good idea. As the adage goes, “An intelligent person makes complexity simple. An idiot makes complexity more complex.”

6. Set a Time LimitRepeat the brainstorm. Obviously, you’ll have to end the brainstorming at some point. However, it may not always be the best idea to ideate until people simply stop talking. Try setting and announcing a firm time limit at the beginning of each session.  Then, repeat the session at a different time. Ideas don’t appear on command. They take time to develop and mature. Brainstorm early and often.

7. Be Under Specific. Give yourself just enough information to be dangerous and willing to make a difference. So many brainstorms – either formal or informal – waste valuable time reviewing statistics.

8. Learn what to focus on. The focus should always be the match between objective and outcome. What do you want the idea to do? If you get lost or stuck, reframe your objective.

9. Find the Right Time. For many people, late morning is a good time to be creative. People tend to be a bit more laid back after they’ve had lunch, so morning is often preferable. Which one is yours?

10. Never stop creating ideas. Athletes or artists don’t suddenly become brilliant in their chosen field. It takes hours of intense practice. The same is true with creativity. You can’t suddenly come up with a sensational idea if you never practice and stretch your creative muscles.

Allow yourself to make mistakes. You will always come up with more bad ideas than good ideas. The key is looking through the rubble of bad ideas to find the nugget of good.


About Alex Noudelman

Alex Noudelman is a digital marketing manager and educator. He received his Honors B.A. from York University and a Masters in Adolescent Education from D’Youville College.

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