It is all about idea brainstorming.
Like water, ideas seem to make up our mere existence. Everything around us that humans could ever develop is basically built on ideas. This is one distinct difference between us and all other creatures. We can think, generate ideas, process them, accept or discard them, and develop them.
If we look around, we will find ourselves surrounded by other people’s ideas. Books are authors’ ideas. Movies are writers’ and directors’ ideas. School started out as an idea. Paintings were originally ideas. Even technology in terms of laptops, mobile phones, and the cars that take us everywhere were once ideas.
We need ideas to evolve as human beings, to form our opinions, to be able to express ourselves, and to push forward the wheel of progress. On a small scale, ideas might make you do well in mathematics class. On a much bigger scale, they shape cultures and influence entire generations.
We are diving into an ocean of ideas.
Where do ideas come from?
Just like amateur artists need to copy the work of professional artists to learn and develop, one needs to learn others’ ideas in order to come up with their own. In this, reading is your first weapon.
Reading lets you know how people from different cultures and even different times in history viewed the world, came up with their inventions, and helped shape the world we live in now. So getting exposed to others’ ideas and opinions is the first way to come up with your own ideas.
But if we can get ideas from reading, then it is the writing process that generates ideas. Authors are uniquely able to build entire worlds of characters and events. But the question here is, where do authors get their ideas? Where do ideas originally come from?
Well, that is a good question. Thomas Edison, the great American inventor once said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”. That is of course no hard job for Edison. After all, he is the one who tried several thousand ways before he could successfully invent the light bulb.
Still, Mr. Edison, you did not answer the question. Where do ideas come from?
As a matter of fact, they do not. Ideas are rather made. To comprehend this, we must first admit something: ideas do not come out of nothingness. “There is no such thing as an original idea,” said Mark Twain, the great American writer. Instead, we can change old ideas, trim them, flip them, combine them, and turn them into something completely new.
So the question is not where ideas come from but instead how do we come up with ideas?
Hare or tortoise?
Some people say that in order to get new ideas by merging old ones, one should
have a good imagination. This is also known as talent. It should not be hard for talented writers then to create such fictional worlds.
That being said, there have been/are/and will be millions and millions of writers from every inch of the world. Does that mean they were/will be all born talented? Of course not. At least one of them had no talent and no ability at all to imagine unreal things. How, then, did they develop their ideas?
Well, let’s first acknowledge the golden ground rule that says: creativity is not attributed to talent only but also, if not mostly, to consistent practice. Practice is required whether there is talent or not.
We can pretty much think of writers with and without talent as resembling the hare and the tortoise from the famous children’s story.
Those who are talented need to take care of their natural idea-generating machine in order to develop it and keep it running, otherwise it will get rusty. And they will just be like the sleeping hare under the tree who lost to the slow but consistent tortoise.
On the other hand, those who have little to no talent have to practice even more and all the time. They have to make up for their lack of talent by putting in more effort. Consistency is their key to success, just like it was the tortoise’s.
Ideas are to solve problems
Ideas are exclusively necessary to solve problems. If nothing went wrong, we would have nothing to fix. If we lived in a system that never failed, why would we even bother to improve it? What would we need ideas for?
Think about it. Everything we use now was once an idea to fix a problem. Fans and air conditioners solve the problem of hot weather and vice versa with heating systems. Washing machines solve the problem of getting very exhausted washing clothes by hand. Cars save physical effort and WhatsApp cancels the long distances between people.
Luckily, our world is never short on problems. In turn, we need to generate ideas to solve them. We mentioned before that both talented and untalented people have to practice coming up with ideas. Fine. How do they do that? And how can we introduce new ideas?
Well, by brainstorming.
What, then, is brainstorming?
Brainstorming is an activity to come up with new ideas, suggestions, and solutions to certain problems. Usually, it is a group activity where people meet to think more freely and list their ideas down. However, it can as well be practiced individually.
Brainstorming was born from a spark of frustration!
In the USA during the 1940s lived an advertising executive named Alex. F. Osborn. Since he was working in advertising, he and his team needed to generate ideas for ads. Ads attract customers to buy products. Good ads make customers buy the products.
However, Osborn’s employees were not able to generate good ideas on their own. That meant no ads which in turn translated to no sales and no salaries.
To fix this problem, Osborn decided to gather his employees in groups to think together instead of each one of them working on their own. He asked them to address one problem and start suggesting any ideas related to it then write them down.
One key principle in those sessions was not to judge, at least not during the process of generating ideas. All participants were allowed to think freely without having to care if an idea was good or bad. The more ideas they suggested, the more inspired they became to engage and come up with more ideas.
After a few sessions, Osborn found that the group was able to think more efficiently and come up with more creative ideas. So he called the concept ‘organized ideation’ but his employees later named it brainstorming because their brains were taking problems by storm. Makes sense.
But how did Osborn’s employees precisely come up with ideas? Well, not by magic, of course. Osborn could develop multiple principles and techniques to encourage brainstorming at work. His method exclusively suited employees but later on, many brainstorming techniques were developed to fit in as many situations and be used by as many people as possible.
In this section of the article, we will go through some interesting brainstorming techniques to help you generate your own ideas. Let’s tackle them one by one.
Three techniques of idea brainstorming
Before you attempt brainstorming, you must first identify what you are trying to generate ideas for. Is it a problem you are trying to solve? Or is it something you want to do but do not know how to? Either way, make sure you address the topic/problem in a clear statement. For example: how to organize a birthday party.
Now that you have successfully addressed your topic or problem, you can start generating ideas for it. The first method of brainstorming is called listing and it is pretty self-explanatory.
You bring a piece of paper, write your statement as a title on top of it then start listing anything and everything that is related in any way to the statement. For throwing a birthday party, the list might be something like this:
- Birthday cake (pretty straightforward!)
- Make it at home, find recipe, buy ingredients
- Buy it, find a good bakery, or buy it online
- Drinks: soda, and juice
- Fruit, small bites
- Gift, wrapping paper, card
- Decoration: balloons, ribbon, lights, party poppers
- Date and time: people have to be free, weekend
By now, you should have a more clear idea about how to organize a birthday party. The next step is organization and judgment. First, try to put the items in order. If you can, choose an item and try to organize the rest according to it.
Secondly, add modifications as needed. You can now discard the items you think will not work or replace them with other alternatives. For this list above, money can be a keystone item to put the other items in order with. So the new list goes like that:
- Determine budget.
- Choose the day, time, and place.
- Invite people.
- Choose the gift.
- Go shopping: buy cake ingredients, other food and drinks, gifts, wrapping paper, and decorations.
- Find a recipe online.
- Make the cake the night before the part or early in the morning.
- Decorate the place.
- Serve the food on a large table.
- Start welcoming guests.
And voila! You now know how to organize a birthday party.
(2) Mind mapping
Mind mapping is the second technique of idea brainstorming. It is actually a little bit more fun because it includes visuals. Again, write the problem/statement on a blank paper, but this time in the middle of the page. Then start to think of ideas or items that are directly related to the statement.
The difference here is to write these items in bubbles around the statement and draw lines to connect them to the statement in the center and to one another. You should continue doing this until you run out of ideas. The result will look like a map with so many bubbles and lines.
If we use this technique on the same birthday party example, the resultant mind map would come out something like this:
And again, you know how to organize a birthday party using mind mapping.
(3) Six Questions
The third technique we have today is so interesting and allows you to think more clearly. It is the six-question technique. The idea here is so simple. Once you identify the problem, ask six questions about it with what, when, where, how, why, and who.
Such questions can be phrased in many different ways to help you come up with more ideas. For example, if you want to buy a birthday gift for your friend, the questions can be something like that:
- Who am I buying the gift for? Who will give me the money? Who will I ask for an opinion?
- What can I buy? What does my friend want? What does he/she like? What does he/she not like?
- When should I buy it? When is the birthday?
- Where can I buy it?
- How can I buy it? How much money does it cost? How much money do I have? How will I go to the store? How will I choose the gift? How will I wrap it?
- Why am I choosing this gift in particular?
Answering these questions and organizing your answers can pretty much give you a good idea about what gift you should buy for your friend and how exactly you are going to do that.
Tips to improve brainstorming
Improving your brainstorming skills is a sure thing with consistent practice. The more you apply the techniques we discussed above, the better and the faster you will become at coming up with ideas. Think of it like a muscle. The more you train it, the stronger it will get.
Besides practice, there are a couple of things that can help you have better brainstorming results. Here they are.
It is always better to do things with other people and it is just the same thing with brainstorming. Group thinking provides inspiration that might be scarce when brainstorming alone. Participants also engage with each other’s suggestions which in turn results in more and more ideas. So try brainstorming with your friends or colleagues.
(2) Topic Size
Secondly, when brainstorming, make sure the problem you are trying to solve or the topic you are addressing is neither too broad nor too specific. Broad topics can be overwhelming because there are so many perspectives to consider the problem from and therefore many areas to cover. On the other hand, specific topics provide a pretty narrow spectrum to move and come up with related ideas.
(3) Time Frame
Thirdly, set a suitable time frame. To avoid getting too carried away with brainstorming, it is better to set a period of time for each brainstorming session. Such sessions for sure are going to have different lengths based on the topic being discussed.
To do this, you can first try to freely brainstorm a topic, with no time frame applied. Just start your stopwatch and do it until you run out of ideas. Then shorten this period a bit and repeat the process. Try to come up with as many ideas as you can within the new time frame.
You can adjust the time based on your results. But remember, you are trying to generate ideas faster but not at the expense of idea quality.
Now that you are familiar with three different brainstorming techniques, how about some assignment? Using any of the techniques listed above, try brainstorming as many ideas as you can about one or all of these topics:
Ideas literally make up everything around us. We get to enjoy everything that facilitates our life thanks to the ideas of millions of people. Though we do not necessarily have to invent a new washing machine or build a rocket that can travel to Jupiter in 10 hours, we sure need to learn to think better, do well at school, and be able to solve our own problems.
That is why generating ideas is a necessary skill for kids as well as adults. In this article, we learned three different ways of idea brainstorming: listing, mind mapping, and the six-question technique. Whether you write your ideas in a list, draw them in a web and connect them to each other, or get creative with questions, you are going to have some ideas, actual ideas, that you did not have before.
Remember not to judge or criticize your ideas while you are still generating them. Once you are completely done, you can then evaluate your ideas, relate them to each other, cross out flimsy ones, and put the rest in order.