Typically, we think of “brainstorming” as an energetic group of people talking a mile a minute and bouncing ideas off each other. But small-business owners often have to generate ideas alone.
If you’re used to working in a team, solo brainstorming can be intimidating. Here are four techniques to make it easier and more effective.
This tactic assumes that the right brain is creative and the left brain is analytical. Right-braining is a fancy term for doodling. Think about the problem or concern you’re facing, and as you do so, start doodling. Some of us tend to draw intricate, complete doodles, but it helps to leave some of your doodles loose and incomplete.
After a while, stop and look at your doodles. See if they stimulate any ideas. Also, think about how you could complete some of the incomplete doodles or combine them in new ways. Right-braining can lead to new ideas. It can be a way for ideas that are brewing in your subconscious to bubble up.
Storyboarding is used in the film and TV industries to “block out” what will happen in a scene. Use the same concept to make yourself think creatively about a problem in your business.
Draw squares or use pieces of paper to sketch out a “story” related to your problem. For instance, if you’re thinking about how to improve customer service in your store, you could storyboard what happens when a customer enters the store.
You can use pen and pencil, cut and paste images from magazines or do whatever keeps your thoughts flowing. Add thought bubbles or speech bubbles like you see in cartoons to tell the story.
Drawing or creating images helps you think about your problems in a different way than the traditional business approach. It can also help to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, in this case, the customer’s or the employee’s. That can give you new insights.
Talk to yourself
Babbling to yourself may seem silly, but often it’s the best way to think through a problem. Grab a digital recorder and just start talking about the problem. However, you don't have to focus on the problem. In fact, the goal is just to pour out whatever comes to mind. This can help get unrelated issues off your mind so your brain is free to innovate.
You may find solutions to your problem coming to you as you talk. Or you may need to listen to your tape later. Either way, for those of us who are more auditory than visual thinkers, spilling our thoughts out is a great way to get creativity flowing.
Too embarrassed to talk to yourself, even when there’s no one around? Try write-streaming instead. It's similar to talking to yourself. In write-streaming you grab a laptop, pen and paper or whatever medium works best for you and just write down everything that comes to mind. This stream-of-consciousness technique has helped some of the best fiction writers be creative, and it can work for you, too.
Write anything you think of, whether it relates to the problem or not. As you write, you may find ideas coming to you or you may see recurring words, images or ideas that will lead you to an innovative solution. Unlike talking to yourself, you can practice write-streaming anywhere—on the commuter train, waiting at the dentist’s office. It’s a good option for the time-crunched creative, and who isn’t time-crunched these days?
We all think and learn differently. Some of us are auditory, some are visual and some learn best by reading. Try mixing up these techniques and see what works best for you.
If you’re auditory, you might work best by talking to yourself—or you might get more creative if you step out of your comfort zone with writing. And a person who writes a lot in the course of business might benefit from getting visual by doodling.
How do you stimulate your creativity when you’re on your own?