It might seem cliché, but building your brainstorming muscle is a lot like building your physical muscles. Coworkers complain about sore biceps from P90X but you rarely hear, “My dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is sore from all of that thinking today.”
Most people don’t think about even “having” ideas until the dreaded work email: BRAINSTORMING MEETING TODAY. Gulp.
“How do I get out of this?” you might think to yourself. If it weren’t for the free food associated with such a meeting, you might even fake an illness or give yourself the Zika virus (I’m not a doctor, but I’m not even sure that it’s possible.)
In many ways, you DO have to think of your brain as a muscle and work that muscle out every day. You can actually get better at brainstorming, concepting, or ideating– whatever you call it– and have fun doing it. So, fear no more. If you follow these five simple tips, I’ll have your corpus callosum tighter than Tony Horton’s Gluteus Maximus:
Set up an idea workout plan
Like a workout plan at the gym, you have to be disciplined. Buy a handy-dandy notebook and write down ideas every day. Set up five to 15 minutes to write down as many ideas as you can. These don’t have to make sense, just a few words, a sentence, or quick sketches. Some days you will have a blank page, but that’s ok because it’s a process. Make it fun. Give yourself prompts for the day to quickly generate ideas, for example: “How would I make a better coffee maker?” or “How could I make a better notebook?” I don’t care what it is. You will actually get better at asking questions too, which is another part of getting good ideas. Start your ideas with “What if….?” questions. You may not be good at first, and that’s ok too. Think back to your first day of your marathon training (ugh!).
Find your cozy “idea place”
Being comfortable and relaxed is a big part of conditioning yourself and getting your whole body ready to accept new ideas. It could be your bed, shower, a coffee shop, a museum, or even just a quiet place at work. My favorite place to go is a bookstore. I love all of the ideas and possibilities around me. I would find three random books and apply one thing from each book to my topic. Most of the time it makes no sense at all, but it forces my brain to consider ideas that I would never have thought on my own.
Have more bad ideas
Failure is necessary. Sometimes it’s good to even say, “Let’s get the bad ideas out there first” You can call your brainstorming sessions “quest for failure” meetings. Even the great Apple computer had one of the biggest product failures of all time. The Newton MessagePad was supposed to change the world, but instead, it was a huge failure. But the basic idea of the Newton was the seed for the iPhone that has revolutionized how we live today.
Get an idea buddy
There you are in the company brainstorm meeting, and it’s your turn to talk. You look on at the 20 other faces in the room, open your mouth, and your idea sheepishly crawls out. Silence. Nobody—I repeat—nobody feels 100% comfortable throwing out ideas in that setting. It’s better to assign (or let people choose) an idea buddy. This one-on-one environment is more conducive to a conversation-type atmosphere for maximizing ideation. Then have a larger meeting to throw out each buddy groups’ ideas.
Believe that ideas are all around you
We’ve all done it. You see the infomercial for the flowbee and think, “I thought of that!” How can we all be thinking the same thing? I personally believe that ideas are all around us. If you can adopt this belief, it will take the pressure off of you making an original idea. Again, recognizing this is another way to help yourself relax. Be a conduit for ideas, like metals conducting electricity. Over time, you can condition your brain to be a better conduit of those floating ideas. Increase your personal idea conductivity level and you will be surprised with the results.
Now go with confidence to brainstorm and treat yourself to all of that meeting food knowing that you worked your brain like a pro.
by David Cordell