Brainstorming is often scoffed as the ‘easy’ part of business, product and content building. It’s the fun bit—where people just get around a table, notebook or whiteboard and let their ideas fly.
And yet, there’s big difference between doing brainstorming ‘right’ and haphazardly. Ideas are fleeting, tentative things—you never quite know which are going to come out as winners in the long run, and if you don’t capture their seedling form, they’ll never get a proper chance to develop.
Any decent brainstorming and ideation system (or template) is going to need to help us with a few key processes:
- Generating ideas;
- Capturing ideas;
- Connecting ideas;
- Storing them;
- Sorting them; and
- Building them out further when ready.
So if we’re going to start making more out of our brainstorming efforts, we’d probably better hone in on each of those in detail—that’s what we’ll do in this post, along with covering a few common Brainstorming Frameworks (from deBono’s Thinking Hats to the Five Whys of the Lean Startup method) to kick things off.
A friend of mine had a common joke: ‘The less clothes you have on, the better the ideas’.
Naturally, the double-meaning led to endless sources of laughter—it seemed every week we had a new scenario to apply the joke to.
But the origin of the idea was simple and innocent enough: great ideas often come to us in the shower, bath and bed.
The history of great ideas in the shower is a curious one. Recent neuroscience sheds some equally fascinating light on the process.
The main takeaways I want to highlight here are:
- Ideas come to us in all sorts of situations and scenes;
- They often arrive long after we initially start thinking about a topic;
- A relaxed state of mind tends to allow for excellent creative problem solving; and
- Reading and consuming content, books and ideas of interest tend to inspire new ideas;
- And, ultimately, we cannot quite predict when our best ideas will strike us.
What are we to do with this knowledge?
Well, here are some suggestions:
- Read and consume ideas, widely;
- Ensure you have a ‘space’ to capture ideas when they do strike (whether that’s a Post-It note, a space on your phone or a dedicated ideas workspace on your desktop); and
- If you are going to do some ‘dedicated brainstorming’, best to get yourself into a relaxed state of mind before doing so.
If you are going to jump into brainstorming mode, here are a couple of techniques to get you started.
- DeBono’s 6 Thinking Hats;
- The Five Whys; and
- Reverse Brainstorming.
Now that you’re a pro at getting the creative juices flowing, the question remains as to where you’re going to get all of them down.
The process of capturing ideas should also have some desirable qualities:
- Easily accessed at any time;
- Easy to store in a ‘useful’ place (say, within the right notebook or with the relevant ‘tag’);
- Frictionless and without filter (i.e. not in a public place); and
- Reliable as a storage object (i.e. not likely to fade or degrade over time).
This is where the art of digital notetaking comes through, and where I believe tools like Notion, Obsidian and Evernote really shine through.
Six Thinking Hats
Dr. Edward De Bono was known for his outside-of-the-box thinking. He developed the Six Thinking Hats technique as a tool to help people think more creatively. The Six Thinking Hats framework is a way of thinking about problems from different perspectives. It can be used for business, content brainstorming, and other uses.
The six hats are:
- White Hat: This represents facts and figures. It is all about data and logic.
- Red Hat: This represents emotions and intuition. It is all about gut feelings and hunches.
- Black Hat: This represents caution and skepticism. It is all about looking at the downside and risks.
- Yellow Hat: This represents optimism and positive thinking. It is all about looking at the upside and benefits.
- Green Hat: This represents creativity and new ideas. It is all about thinking outside the box.
- Blue Hat: This represents management and planning. It is all about organizing and coordinating the other hats.
You can also use the Six Thinking Hats component to start using this framework directly in Notion.