7 useful brainstorming techniques and how they work

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Brainstorming sessions can be a very effective way of generating new ideas, solutions to problems and ways of improving a team's effectiveness. They can be particularly useful when you want to get input from many people, especially if each has a unique contribution. Understanding how brainstorming works and the different ways that you can implement it can be useful if you lead a team or aspire to do so. In this article, we explain what brainstorming is and provide you with seven effective brainstorming techniques to consider.

What are brainstorming techniques?

Brainstorming techniques are approaches for getting a group of individuals to jointly contribute to the development of ideas. This could be to solve a problem, generate creative new ideas for a company, develop a long-term plan, improve an existing design or process, make an important decision or consider an offer. You can use brainstorming in any scenario where you want to get input from multiple people simultaneously. For this reason, brainstorming can save you time, as everyone is working together at the same time instead of contributing their ideas separately.

There are different ways to brainstorm, but most typically involve the individuals in question sitting in the same room together or perhaps a digital alternative like videoconferencing. The communication is usually simultaneous and often there's one individual who's in charge of managing the interactions to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute. Brainstorming sessions are typically also convened for a specific purpose and you can inform participants of this beforehand so they can prepare their suggestions in advance. Often, a brainstorming session's purpose is to gather as many ideas as possible, after which you can select the most appropriate.

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7 brainstorming techniques

There are different brainstorming techniques that can be useful in various scenarios or to deal with specific challenges. One technique might be better for analysing an issue, whereas another might be better for encouraging creativity. Below is a list of seven brainstorming techniques that you might consider:

Round robin

This is one of the simpler brainstorming approaches that you can employ, as it just organises the meeting so that every person speaks in turn. You typically arrange the participants into a circle. Then, you introduce the topic and what you would like the participants to contribute. You then go around the circle and give each participant an opportunity to share their thoughts. You can set a specific amount of time for each person to speak if you feel it would help.

You can also divide this into multiple rounds. For instance, the first round might be an opportunity for everyone to share their own idea without commenting on those of others. Once you've completed the circle, you can then grant participants the opportunity to comment on the suggestions of others in the same manner. In the third and final round of the circle, each participant can vote for their preferred solution. Round robin is quite flexible and you can adapt it to your needs quite easily.

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Crawford slip writing

Sometimes, participants may wish to express themselves honestly but prefer to remain anonymous while doing so for various reasons. This could be more likely when you've arranged a brainstorming session to tackle a problem in the workplace, as some individuals may not wish to be overly critical of others even if they believe they're at fault. In this technique, you give everyone a pen and a piece of paper. You present the issue in question and ask them to write their analysis or suggestion on the slip of paper, but without adding their name.

Once everyone has written down their thoughts, you collect all the slips of paper and randomise them. You could do this by putting them in a box or similar object, after which you can take them out one at a time and read out the suggestion. You can then invite the participants to discuss what they've heard and then move on to the next slip. You can combine slip writing with other methods like round-robin to organise the session further.

Mind mapping

The mind mapping technique is a more analytical and creative approach that's often useful for developing new strategies and ideas. This method typically uses some form of graphical organisation like a flow chart or diagram. For instance, if you have a team that's in charge of marketing a new line of products to consumers, mind mapping could be useful for determining how to do so. They might identify the various types of consumers they want to target using a round-robin or similar approach and write them down on a whiteboard or similar medium.

Once you have the different types of consumers, you can then ask every participant to name one effective channel for each consumer type. Once again, you can use an approach like round-robin to get everyone to contribute in turn. You can then expand upon each of these channels further. Mind mapping, therefore, allows you to implement a structured and layered approach to idea generation and planning. Remember that it can be just as useful for analysis and troubleshooting.

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Starburst

This is another brainstorming technique that can be useful for analysis or idea generation. The name refers to the fact that it uses a six-pointed star as a visual aide, where each point on the star corresponds to a question word. Each of these would be one of the standard question words, namely who, what, where, why, when and how. This guides the thoughts of participants and can help them categorise their ideas.

For example, you could use this to help a team that's generating new product ideas. You'd ask them who the product is for, what it provides them, where it might be useful, why the company is in the best position to offer it, when it could be developed by and how you would do this. Of course, this can apply to almost anything and you can combine starbursting with other techniques like mind mapping to generate more in-depth analyses and insights.

Associative brainstorming

Team leaders often use associative brainstorming during the earlier stages of a new project or initiative. This is a way of getting as many interconnected ideas as possible, even if they lack detail. It typically works with word affiliations, whereby you'd introduce a central theme and ask participants to contribute words or ideas that they naturally associate with it. For example, you might be planning to launch a new marketing strategy for a product and the central theme might be something related to the product.

If the product is a piece of software, then this is the central theme. You'd then ask participants to contribute words that they associate with software, which might be things like 'data', 'security', 'user interface' or 'online'. You'd add each of these to something like a whiteboard, with the central theme in the centre, usually within a circle to identify it. Once you've exhausted the initial ideas, you could repeat the process with some of the words contributed by participants to get even more ideas.

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SWOT analysis

Although SWOT analysis is often used by individual analysts and project managers, it can also be a useful guiding technique for brainstorming sessions, especially in analytical or planning sessions. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A medium like a whiteboard would be quite useful for organising this, whereby you'd divide it into four quadrants. Each part of the SWOT would occupy one quadrant and you could then invite participants to contribute.

You can then use another technique like round-robin or slip writing to invite participants to add their thoughts. If the purpose of the session is to consider a new project, a SWOT-based brainstorming session can help you to get input from various individuals from different backgrounds. For instance, a financial professional might perceive different opportunities to an engineer and a legal professional may notice different threats to an architect. You can also complement this with a PESTLE analysis, which stands for the political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental factors involved.

Roleplaying

You may find that a role-playing approach is useful if you're considering hypothetical situations and want others to contribute to planning for them. In role-play, certain individuals pretend to be someone else, such as a client or critic. They'd assume the viewpoint and attitude of another person and interact with others. This can allow your group to try and guess how certain individuals might react to your plans or actions. Role-playing is an engaging and creative approach, so you adapt it for many different purposes.

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