There were times when “brainstorming” was what “asynchronous workflow” is now - a hot and trendy approach to working and doing business.
Coined in a 1953 book “Applied Imagination” by Alex Faickney Osborn, brainstorming was still popular at the beginning of the 21st century. There were presentations, books, and even conferences dedicated to understanding and using this method in creative ideation and problem-solving.
A decade or two later, as my words echo in the oblivion, I ask:
Is brainstorming dead?
No, not really.
Brainstorming is simply so well incorporated into our daily work lives that we don’t consider it a “thing” anymore. It’s simply something that we use on a daily basis, like a to-do list or a coffee break.
In other words - it’s no longer trendy to talk about brainstorming. But I will dare to go against the current and try to resurrect this good old group creativity tactic. I’ll also suggest four new ways to brainstorm remotely and add bonus tips that are relevant in our tech-driven and mostly remote reality.
Brainstorming is at the very core of our work at Truesix. We brainstorm not only to come up with original article topics, but also to find creative approaches to represent our clients. Our daily work has helped us to become powerful brainstormers and lately also — learn to brainstorm remotely.
Who knows - we may remember why brainstorming was great in the first place! Care to join me for this ride?
1. Slack brainstorming
I’m kinda proud of this term I just coined for this thing we are doing daily with our team. Since we've been working remotely for almost a year now, we don’t really have a choice.
Slack brainstorming essentially means finding solutions for problems or generating ideas while chatting on Slack. There are some cool benefits to Slack brainstorming, for example, nobody has to write down or record the ideas since Slack does it for you. It can also be unexpectedly fun with emojis, links, and GIFs spicing up the conversation.
Besides, the colleagues who are shyer to speak up might be more open to laying out their thoughts in writing.
Here’s how to do it:
- You can have spontaneous brainstorm sessions anytime — just jot down the question when you need your team’s opinion or ideas.
- Elaborate on ideas using the Threads function, which immediately adds structure to the brainstorming process.
Encourage your team to use emojis to express their opinion or vote for an idea. For example, they can add numbers as votes in the reactions or add emojis to show their special appreciation for an idea.
2. Google Docs brainstorming
We’ve already written about how much we love Google Docs for its real-time editing, chat within files, targeted feedback, and other magic properties. It turns out that Google Docs is a helpful tool for times when your team needs to brainstorm remotely.
Here’s how to do it:
- Identify a topic to brainstorm about.
- Send a Google Docs link for everyone to add their ideas.
- If you are the moderator, compile the thoughts from the doc into a list of actionable ideas.
- Invite each team member to mark the three ideas they like best.
- The idea with the most votes is the winner.
We’ve tried this “lazy brainstorming” tactic many times.
Because it’s super easy and requires no preparation whatsoever.
Furthermore, nothing inspires a writer more than...a blank page! Give it a try!
3. Video brainstorming
This brainstorming tactic works similar to in-person brainstorming, with some differences. The good thing is that you can get all colleagues to participate - even those with varying schedules or locations.
However, video brainstorming may be less spontaneous and dynamic than doing it face-to-face. It’s somehow less natural to throw in a suggestion or add a supportive remark to someone’s idea because of the - albeit tiny - delay we get in video calls.
Our team uses Google Meet when we brainstorm remotely because it has no call length limit and it’s super easy to join just by clicking on a link. And, it’s free! It also has a chat option for comments or context links.
Here’s how to do it:
- Prepare everyone in advance by sharing a document with agenda items.
- During the meeting, showcase an idea by sharing your screen or add links to other online resources in the built-in group chat.
- Write down the ideas on a separate document or a whiteboard.
- Just like in real-life brainstorming sessions, make sure you set a time limit and stick to it.
For our team, video brainstorming is often combined with our weekly happy hour video session. It’s our way of a laid-back and pleasant brainstorming about, frankly, mostly unrelated topics. But sometimes the best ideas come in the least expected moments, right?
4. Individual brainstorming (talking to yourself)
One of the awesome things about brainstorming is that you can do it while walking in the park or lying on the beach and still call it working. You only need to make sure that you have a notebook or a voice recorder at hand to jot down your thoughts.
Jokes aside, this technique is useful (changing your surroundings always adds fresh perspective) AND healthy because sitting is the new smoking while a stroll in the park gets your blood flowing and brain working better.
Just be careful - parks can get dangerous if you’re walking while taking down notes. Or if you’re too carried away developing your awesome idea in your head.
Bonus tips on how to brainstorm remotely
The basics of brainstorming remain the same whether you are doing it in the flesh or virtually. These are some well-tested tactics for getting the most out of brainstorming — and having fun while you’re at it.
Every idea is a good idea
In the brainstorming stage, all ideas should be considered good and valid. Don’t express doubt or negativism about others’ ideas, or you’re risking to discourage your team from suggesting something.
Remember — sometimes even seemingly silly ideas get the creative juices flowing and help to reach the best solutions or concepts. Just note everything that is suggested, and audit the list afterward.
Our colleague Julia is an experienced brainstormer. She shares a story from an April Fool’s day brainstorming session she had years ago, as a member of the Startup Vitamins team (a Draugiem Group project): “I was too shy to share one idea that I had - placing motivational quotes on condoms. When I finally said it out loud, everyone loved it and in the end this was the idea we implemented. It also gained lots of fans on social media”.
This tactic works wonders if you are short on ideas or if you feel stuck with something. A random input can be anything — like a picture of an item or an animal, or a word randomly picked from a glossary. When you’ve randomly selected a word or an image, the idea is to generate ideas connecting it with your problem at hand. The aim is to “assist your mind with thinking in a new direction,” in other words — facilitate thinking outside of the box.
Julia likes a variation of this tactic. When leading brainstorming sessions, she picks a topical event, or some pop-culture news and tries to connect it to the brainstorm’s topic. She says: “Very often, the topic itself is not too exciting. But linking it to another trendy case or theme, we get a new, unique angle.”
Different perspective approach
Perspective change can be a powerful driver in brainstorming sessions. For example, look at the given problem from the perspective of different age groups, backgrounds, and educational levels. For example, what would a teenager think about this problem? How would a middle-aged college professor solve this issue?
Alternatively, consider various outcomes for the topic at hand. In our brainstorming sessions, we consider what will come out of the topic ideas we generate. Can we make a list article about this? Can we turn it into a guide? Is it possible to turn this idea into an opinion article?
If you have a specific problem that needs to be solved, try the reverse brainstorming approach. Instead of trying to solve the issue, ask your team to develop ways to cause it or make it worse.
When all ideas are listed, ask your team to flip the reverse solutions and come up with ways to achieve the opposite effect. For example, if you need to improve team collaboration, list ways that would make it worse, for example, not sharing your concerns or findings with the rest of the team. Then flip the reverse solution and you get a real fix indicating that the team members need to share their concerns and findings with colleagues more often.
Good luck setting up your own brain-tornado
So, this was the bare-bones of brainstorming, without going too deep into the numerous brainstorming tactics, mind-mapping, files sharing, and all that jazz. I still hope it was helpful or at least made you excited about organizing a brainstorming session about something...anything!