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Basic Brainstorming Tools

There are brainstorming helpers that you can buy, including some nifty software for helping you to generate ideas. This page is more about the techniques and resources that you can use for free, starting today. The tools here are a little less technological, but just as useful.

Basic Problem Solving Techniques

To brainstorm as a group (the usual definition and method) can be a great way to come up with new ideas. Just be sure to follow the basics (free-flow of ideas, no insulting or judgment, etc.) To get the most out of the group, however, introduce them to some of the best brainstorming tools: basic problem solving techniques. Here are some to get you started.

Challenge Assumptions

Challenge all the assumptions that are a part of the problem/opportunity, including the most fundamental ones. If you were looking for a new seating design for restaurants, you begin to ask things like, "Are chair legs necessary?" If the seats were extended from the wall, table, or ceiling, it would be easier to clean under them. Are chairs really necessary? Has a stand-up cafe been tried?

Break Problems Down

This is the way the practice of "Kaizen" brought such quality and efficiency to Japanese industry. Most large problems are really a bunch of smaller problems. Sometimes it is less overwhelming to start with the small parts first. Kaizen is a system of continually innovating and improving in small ways. It can add up to big results. List all the components of a question or problem, and start working on those.

Re-Define the Problem

Write down what you are trying to accomplish. Then find another way to express it and write that down. Continue until you have at least several definitions. Work with each for a while, writing down all the possible solutions and any ideas that come to mind.

Change Perspective

Pretend you're very rich, very poor, from another country or another planet. How would you see the problem from this new perspective. Einstein imagined riding on a beam of light to come up with his theory of relativity, so this technique has been known to work.

Try any techniques that you think might help, and note which ones produce the most innovative and useful ideas with your group. If you have a fairly open-minded group, there are other, more fun methods, such as "random presentation," "assume the absurd," and the "what if" word list. For more on these brainstorming, visit the page "Problem Solving Techniques."

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