7 Ways To Boost The Brainstorming Process
Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in the late 1800s, and electric lighting has revolutionized the way people work and live ever since. His breakthrough achievement came on the heels of one of the most frequently related accounts of trial and error. Said the inventor, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison, like other influential figures throughout history, understood that finding the next big thing requires testing many ideas and persevering even when they fail.
Take, for another example, three prominent classical composers: Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. Each of these individuals made a name for himself as a master of his craft, and yet, the number of their works hailed as masterpieces pales in comparison to the hundreds of compositions that were only modestly received. Striving to produce as many ideas as it takes—even ideas that seem unlikely or far-fetched—is a valuable practice for entrepreneurs to embrace.
Brainstorming and other attempts to tap into creative thinking can take many forms. Here are seven approaches to keep in mind when generating ideas for your business.
1. Open up to spontaneity
Business insights come and go unexpectedly, and wise entrepreneurs will keep their minds open to them whenever they arrive. Maybe your next big idea will come when you’re cooking dinner, playing with your children, or walking your dog around the neighborhood. Or maybe an insight will strike when you’re having a conversation with someone you don’t usually talk to—in other words, when you venture outside your comfort zone or your usual circle. Be open to new experiences and the new ideas they can bring you.
2. Keep a notebook on hand
Welcoming spontaneous thoughts is just half of the equation. Keeping a running list of these impressions can pay huge dividends. A small notebook works well for tracking these flickers of insight, though digital options, such as a list-generating app or a spreadsheet, get the job done, too. Or you could simply use the Notes app on your smartphone. Either way, don’t wait too long after you have the idea to record it—when it’s fresh in your mind, you’re usually able to articulate it better.
3. Brainstorm, but don’t rush it
A spontaneous idea for, say, a new business model may not come for a while. In the meantime, while waiting for your muse, be proactive and brainstorm. Key to this process is finding a balance between trying to force an idea, and not trying hard enough, according to Wharton professor Adam Grant. He explored this relationship in researching his book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, and found that creativity increases when people simply give themselves time to think. Big ideas, after all, need room to grow.
4. Differentiate between positive and negative doubt
Even the most confident entrepreneur will feel doubt from time to time, and this can either help or hinder the brainstorming process. On the one hand, positive doubt allows a person to look critically at an idea, evaluate it, refine it, and potentially put it into action. On the other hand, negative doubt is self-doubt, which can derail the whole process. As leaders learn to doubt their ideas and not themselves, they can focus on what needs improvement and put in the work to get there.
5. See each idea through
A paper that appeared in Science pointed to high productivity as one of the major predictors of a scientist stumbling on a high-impact idea. The study found that the more results a scientist produced, the more likely he or she was to uncover an important, high-impact result.
The lesson for entrepreneurs here is to focus on output, and to test each idea all the way through. In this approach, you give each concept a fair shot before crossing it off your list and moving to the next.
6. Seek a variety of feedback
Fully testing an idea includes soliciting feedback from a variety of sources. Share your idea or new concept with your colleagues, your family members, your mentor, and if appropriate, your customers. This might include convening a focus group. Knowing what people think of an idea in the early stages can provide valuable feedback. The combination of different perspectives will help you refine your idea, as well as know when to toss it or develop it further.
7. Mix up the environment
Just as entrepreneurs seek to break out of the mold with their product, the brainstorming process can greatly benefit from a shakeup as well. The likely settings for seeking inspiration might include your office, your home office, or your car during the morning commute. Stepping out of these familiar environments into a new one is a worthwhile experiment.
On a broader scale, adding an unfamiliar destination to your travel list and experiencing a new culture can spark creativity. However, you don’t have to go far to find inspiration. Take a class in a subject you know nothing about, pick up a new hobby, or learn a new language. You just might stumble upon your next great idea.