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Brainstorming techniques that will help you overcome creative blocks.

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Sometimes the ideas are just not there.

You have deadlines, problems to solve, and whatever else...and there's nuthin' in your head.

Years ago I wrote several blog articles for clients and my employer that had to do with brainstorming techniques. They got a lot of traffic and I still get traffic off of the search terms because I have some worksheets to help with brainstorming.

Brainstorming, as a word, sounds terrifying.

It sounds like you'd need aspirin in a bad way.

In a perfect world, brainstorming techniques would help over come creative blocks by assisting you in thinking outside of the boxes or limitations we function under because of habits.

Habits, I might add, that have served you well professionally when it comes to reliably churning out writing for clients on a deadline schedule of similar quality. But that reliability can also squelch creativity in your own work, or lead to a choke point for client work at some point down the road.

It's one reason I think writing prompts are good for everyone, whether you're a business writer, fiction writer, marketer, or whatever else. We all need a creative kick in the pants.

But in those moments that you have creative block or can't come up with ideas or a solution to some issue, we have brainstorming techniques to try, whether with a group or on your own. Both can work, and both can be terrible.

Basically, there are four general approaches to brainstorming:

  1. Association

  2. Measurement

  3. New view

  4. Tweaked methods (i.e. the three above, but with modifications)

All of these are found in my brainstorming worksheet collection as I will describe further.

1. Association Brainstorming Techniques

Association brainstorming uses the obvious ideas first, and then starts branching out off of that foundation to find associations that might be surprisingly useful. These include word storms, word associations, mind mapping, visual association, and word banks.

Writing prompts fall into the visual association, where an image is used to get you to write or think differently. Over the years I've created notebooks where I've collected and glued magazine pages and other odds and ends that are visual interesting. They help not only inspire visual art, but also in this association brainstorming method.

2. Measurement Brainstorming Techniques

Some people like the order and control of a measurement approach to brainstorming in which lists of pros and cons, and weighted pros and cons, are used to make a difficult decision.

Weighted pros and cons simply mean that in some situations, the pros and cons have more weight in the positive or negative column and so ought to be considered accordingly. A numerical value or list order can be used to handle this.

3. New View Brainstorming Techniques

Taking the new view approach to brainstorming is the "what if" factor where you ask the crazy questions you wouldn't otherwise feel comfortable throwing out there.

There's a freedom in knowing you can toss the strange ideas onto the table without having to take them as a real solution. It does two things: frees up space in your mind, and might actually lead to a legitimate idea.

4. Combining Brainstorming Techniques

Less a different technique and more a mashup of the previous three, tweaking and combining might get you to where you want to go. Or you might put constraints on these techniques to purposefully create competition or pressure to see what that adds to the mix.

Pros and cons + association.

Visual association + what if.

You might start with word association, and then move on to creating a word bank out of the best words. Or maybe you'll give yourself three minutes to come up with words to force your mind to just dump out the ideas without over thinking them. Reduce the time, budget, or options and see what forced limitation does.

Powerful combinations and forced limitations are all useful tools when it comes to brainstorming techniques.

Apollo 13 is a great example of an "impossible" problem solved by powerful combinations and extreme forced limitations. Unlimited time, budget, and opportunity would probably not produce as good of a result, and that lack of limitation is sort of how we get slow-moving red tape. The old saying that necessity is the mother of invention makes sense in light of this.

Apollo 13's limitations were real, but even using arbitrary and "fake" limitations can get a similar result out of you and your team.

Most of the time my habits and systems allow me to plod along just fine and churn out reliable work, but every once in a while I remind myself to do some brainstorming techniques even if only to exercise my mind.

I'd encourage you to give them a try.


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