11 brainstorming techniques to get the most out of it


Brainstorming is a popular way to gather a pile of unconventional ideas to solve problems and achieve goals. True, if it’s done casually, instead of a valuable list, you risk getting disrupted voices, flushed faces and wasted time. To ensure that everything works, it is important to stipulate rules with participants in advance – to speak in turn, not to interrupt, write down everything that comes to mind, so as not to forget, etc. And uncover the creative chakra and get more brilliant ideas will help unconventional approaches to brainstorming.

Let’s talk about 11 brainstorming techniques on the example of a specific task – to formulate hypotheses for promoting a new product. Let it be a mobile app – a personal assistant for an entrepreneur 😉

Read, choose, test. At the end – a few tips that will increase the chances of a positive result, although they do not guarantee it.

1. from the opposite direction

In a classic brainstorming session, participants are tasked with generating ideas that will work – help solve a problem or achieve a goal. The “reverse” approach provides an opportunity to engage in sabotage – to propose ideas that are unlikely to work or will not work accurately. Seemingly little benefit, but the wrong solutions can lead to valuable insights that you never would have thought of by going the classic route.

Example. To promote a new product, going the classic route, the team will come up with standard ideas like advertising a mobile app. Working backwards, the team could suggest and spell out things that definitely wouldn’t help promote it. For example, to suggest targeting a non-CA or to collect product shortcomings. How can this be useful? Developing the first option, you may be able to figure out how to target a product to a new segment, the second – how to work off customer objections, eliminate flaws or turn them into strengths.

Of course, you can’t completely dismiss the tried and true ways of promotion either. Contextual and targeting advertising are the channels that are primarily tested by independent advertisers and marketing agencies.

2. Cross-brainstorming

Hand out sheets of paper to participants and invite them to write down quietly in private all the brainstorming ideas they can think of. Then have them pass their sheets to a neighbor to their right or left. Now everyone should go through everyone else’s notes and contribute their own. Pass the sheets around until you have the right number of choices. By going through other people’s hypotheses, each team member can come up with something that would never come to mind on its own. Admittedly, you can’t use this approach alone.

Example. A participant gets a sheet of paper with a suggestion to use a slogan to promote a product. He spins it in his head and comes up with his version that best conveys the properties, purpose or benefit of the product. The slogan becomes a business card like “Dreams Come True” and increases brand awareness.

3. Role-storming

Invite each participant to take turns trying on a different personality and think about how that person would solve the problem. With this approach, team members can break free of their personal fixed judgments and attitudes, and thus come up with something completely new and unconventional to them.

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Example. The digital product promotion team was asked to imagine that they were Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, with their capabilities, background and resources. Suggestions came out – change the interface to blue and white, create a social network around the app for entrepreneurs, add features for online meetings and working with documents. Yes, some of the ideas may be difficult to implement in real conditions or resource costs will be too high, but you will definitely find some gold in this ore.

4. Mindmapping, or the spider map

A special tool is used to organize brainstorming in this technique – a mental map, also called a “concept map” or “spider map”. In the center is placed the key topic of discussion – the goal, the task, or the product itself. Ideas are written around it in the form of branches or “spider legs. If there are additions or clarifications to any hypothesis – draw the branches from this element.

Example. In the center of the spider map is a product to be promoted. From it stretch “legs” – characteristics, advantages and disadvantages, target audience, competitors, promotion methods and channels. From each of them come branches – ideas, thoughts and hypotheses of the team in each area. The result of such an assault can be a large branching map showing the complete marketing picture of the product. It can already be full of ideas for promotion, and by having the opportunity to look at everything from above, participants can generate even more.


5. Change of Place or Time

The essence of the method is simple – ask participants to fantasize and imagine that the problem to be solved as if they were living in another time or another country. This approach helps them see the problem from a new perspective.

Example. The task of selling a virtual personal assistant for entrepreneurs to people from 1921, when Soviet power was established and business was very complicated, on the one hand, it may seem impossible. On the other, it may lead to unconventional ideas. For example, considering that online channels did not exist at that time, the team could think about offline and propose to attract users through ads in places where the target audience is often. And as we still live in the 21 century, this idea can be transformed to QR codes at the handouts of conferences and other business events. Why not?

6. Random Factor

Pick a word, image, or concept and invite participants to build their reasoning and generate hypotheses around it. To brainstorm in the right direction, it can be something as close to the topic as possible – a key issue or a major product feature.

Example. Continuing to promote an app for entrepreneurs. For this task, the incidental factor may be a key property of the product, a need it closes, or just a concept associated with the target audience. For example, you could try reasoning around the word “business” and get user concerns, missing features of the app, and ideas for promotion channels.

7. Exaggerating

Imagine that the problem you all brainstormed for is 10 times more complex, serious, or important than it really is. Perhaps the team will look at the problem from a different angle and come up with options that in another situation would have remained in the depths of the subconscious. By the way, the opposite approach also works – to downplay the problem. The options that participants will offer to solve a trivial problem can be scaled up and turned into hypotheses for testing.

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Example. Assembling a team for a brainstorming session, suggest looking for ways not to promote a mobile app, but for a global solution to a business problem in the country. Or vice versa – ask them to find a way to sell the product to a hundred or just one users.

8. Time limit

The idea is simple: we offer participants to come up with as many ideas and variants for a limited period of time as possible (5, 10, or 20 minutes). We agree on rules, set a timer and start. As soon as the timer goes off, we stop and begin discussing, critiquing, and choosing ideas.

Example. Set a timer for 5 minutes and ask the participants to suggest all the ideas that come to mind, without critical evaluation, not discarding even the most seemingly ridiculous ones. So among the really ridiculous and useless may be valuable thoughts, which in other circumstances, a person would not dare to voice. And hypotheses that turn out to be unsuitable in themselves may lead to other quite useful and feasible solutions.

9. Limitations on quantity

Such brainstorming can be carried out according to any scheme: written or verbal, online or offline, with heated discussions and quiet statements by turns. The main thing is to accumulate a given and voiced at the start number of ideas.

Example. Before you start brainstorming, set a goal of collecting, for example, 100 ideas to promote an app. Don’t stop until you get that number. The point is that when you gather the first 30-50 suggestions, you will run out of solutions that lie on the surface. Creativity and out-of-the-box thinking will come into play, and this is where a Klondike of unexpected hypotheses on channels, creatives, and communication campaigns can wait for you. Some of them, of course, will be discarded as untenable, difficult to implement, or too costly in terms of resources. But it will certainly be possible to take some of them for tests.

10. Shadowstorming

The team divides into three groups:

  • the first discusses the issue publicly;
  • the second listens and writes down everything that comes to mind during the discussion of the first group;
  • The third one expertly evaluates all the generated hypotheses and can offer his/her own variants.


This technique maximizes the involvement of people with different personality types by asking extroverts to discuss the question aloud, and introverts to write down their options in silence.

Some people can produce more impressive results when they know no one is looking at them

Example. When you divide people into three parts, members of the “shadow” group will, of course, generate their own ideas, which will be prompted by suggestions from the “open” group. However, their lists will probably contain many more twisted and refined hypotheses heard from other team members. For example, the “open” group suggested testing offline channels to promote the app in places where the target audience frequents. And one of the participants in the “shadow” group transformed this idea into a proposal to place QR codes on the materials of business events.

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11. word game

This technique resembles the popular association game. You need to choose a single word that is related to the topic and purpose of the brainstorming session. Then it is necessary to write down in turn the associations that this word evokes in each participant. The first associations will be followed by others, and we will have a branching map, similar to a mental map.

Example. Let’s go back to our application. Here, we can choose, for example, the main segment of the target audience – entrepreneur – as the word to which participants should suggest associations. We can have as associations – planning, business, money, workload, employees, taxes, etc. Each of them will lead the participants to certain solutions for product promotion: platforms for publishing PR-articles, audiences for targeted advertising, UTP, creatives and slogans.

7 tips for effective brainstorming

Set a topic or direction. When people get together to discuss something abstract and vague, they are unlikely to come up with something that can then be used in practice to solve a specific problem. Therefore the first rule of effective brainstorming is a clear topic, goal or direction.

Stipulate the rules in advance. Each participant should understand the brainstorming technique and what to do: speak at random, take turns speaking, or silently write down ideas in a notebook. This way you lose less time to miscommunication and can expect the brainstorming to be more productive and faster. By the way, if the brainstorming is planned in conversational form, be sure to appoint a secretary to write down talking points.

Record even the most unrealistic ideas. A common mistake in brainstorming sessions is to immediately discard what seems useless and unworkable in practice. You should write down everything, because an idea may rest and turn out to be better than it seemed at first glance, or lead to other useful ideas.

Try to generate as many hypotheses as possible. It’s simple: the more ideas, the more chances to find an interesting, unbeatable and most effective way to solve the problem. In addition, by combining several suggestions with each other, you can get a ready-made solution.

Do Not Criticize: Make this rule part of your brainstorming session, so that participants do not criticize their own or anyone else’s ideas. This will help get away from stereotypes, incorporate creative thinking, and gather more hypotheses.

Develop others’ ideas. If someone has already voiced a suggestion, it doesn’t mean that you can’t go back to it and need to come up with something fundamentally new. By developing even unrealistic hypotheses, you can formulate an improved solution that will be most valuable and acceptable.

Assemble a diverse team. If you brainstorm within a product development team, don’t expect diversity and out-of-the-box solutions. To get lots of diverse ideas, get salespeople, marketers, designers, traffic specialists, and programmers into the meeting. These people think differently and will be able to look at the task from different angles.

Have a successful brainstorming session!



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