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7 Brainstorming Techniques for Developing New Ideas

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
 and 
  —  
November 2, 2022

Brainstorming is an essential practice for creative thinking and problem-solving. At its most basic, brainstorming simply means choosing a problem, and then coming up with as many fresh ideas as possible that may help solve that problem. In practice, however, brainstorming needs to be structured to be successful.

No matter which brainstorming method you try, be sure to keep these tips in mind:

  • Outline a problem or topic that needs further examination and group feedback for your brainstorming session.
  • Use a shared space, like an online whiteboard, to conduct your brainstorming. This not only makes online brainstorming easier but also ensures you don’t lose any ideas.
  • Encourage quantity over quality. Once you have a lot of ideas, you can start refining the best ones. However, if you have fewer ideas, you’ll have fewer options to choose from.
  • You don’t always need a facilitator, but having one can help. If needed, assign a facilitator before the idea generation begins to keep track of time limits and record the most creative ideas.

7 brainstorming techniques for generating great ideas

1. Hybrid brainstorming

Best for general brainstorming with a group on one or more topics

As we’ve discussed, the best way to get the most out of your brainstorming efforts is to combine the best of async and real-time idea generation. This technique starts off with individual brainstorming and ends with a collaborative, group brainstorming session.

How to run this exercise:

  1. Chose the top 5 questions you want the brainstorming session to be based around.
  2. Have each participant begin brainstorming in their own dedicated space.
  3. Next, have everyone share their ideas so you have one central repository of all the ideas.
  4. Go through each question and discuss any questions that arise.
  5. Vote on the top ideas to focus on.
  6. Turn the top ideas into action items and celebrate your successful ideation session.
An image of the MURAL Conducting a Brainstorm template
The Conducting a Brainstorm template offers ample space for outlining the concepts or challenges, solo brainstorming, organization, and voting.

2. Mind map brainstorming

Best for taking on new problems with a lot of variables

Using the mind mapping brainstorming technique helps your team use the central focus of your project as a starting point, explore all the potential variables tied to that project, and build an understanding of how those variables relate to the main topic, as well as to one another.

How to run this method:

  1. Add a central topic or question to the center of the mind map.
  2. Add branches and nodes based on secondary thoughts to the primary topic. 
  3. Keep adding branches and nodes based on additional ideas until you have a satisfactory number of related ideas.
An image of the MURAL Mind Map template
Use the MURAL Mind Map Template to kickstart your mind mapping brainstorm

3. Crazy eights

Best for generating lots of ideas

The 'crazy eights' brainstorming technique is a great way to explore a wide range of ideas by encouraging quantity and time-boxing every exercise for efficiency. Brainstorm 8 different solutions in just 8 minutes. Once you’re ready, you can review the ideas and agree on the most effective solution.

How to run this activity:

  1. Have each participant take a piece of paper (or use a digital canvas) and divide it into eight parts.
  2. Sketch or detail eight ideas, spending one minute for each panel.
  3. Have each participant share their own ideas.
  4. Vote on the top ideas and turn them into actionable next steps.
An image of the MURAL Crazy Eights template
Use the MURAL Crazy Eights template to get started with a brainstorming session tied to iterating on a theme, product, or feature

4. Round robin brainstorming

Best for collaborative brainstorming

This is a great way to encourage your team members to think critically about a problem or challenge, as well as build on one another's ideas. The format calls for dividing your team into small groups, and having each person pass their ideas along to the following teammate, who then offers counterpoints or further suggestions, helping identify potential weaknesses or spurring innovation within the session.

How to run it:

  1. Set the brainstorming topic or problem you’re looking to solve.
  2. Divide your group or participants into four teams, or add more panels to accommodate more participants.
  3. Have each group or participant write down a proposal and move to the next panel
  4. Looking at what the other group or participant suggested, write down reasons why their proposal might fail then move to the next panel.
  5. Based on the proposal and weaknesses, have each participant or group craft a final concept using the weaknesses as feedback.
An image of the MURAL Round Robin template
The MURAL Round Robin template, built by the LUMA Institute, helps facilitate and organize an effective round robin brainstorming session

5. Question Brainstorming

Best for building a deeper understanding

Question brainstorming is a method where participants come up with as many questions about the problem as possible. In this activity, participants should only come up with questions, not answers. This method is great because it helps the group try to understand the problem completely without the pressure to have the single best solution.

How to run:

  1. Decide on the central topic or problem you want to brainstorm for.
  2. Each group or individual then takes 10-15 minutes to write as many questions about the topic or problem they have without trying to come up with an answer to any of them.
  3. After 10-15 minutes, the group gets back together to share, group, and prioritize the questions.
  4. Go through the full list of questions and start answering each one to better understand the core topic or problem.

6. 6-3-5 brainwriting

Best for building off each other's ideas

6-3-5 brainwriting is a group brainstorming method that involves creating a lot of ideas and building on the ideas of the other participants to give a total of 108 ideas in a short amount of time. To run this exercise, you'll need 6 participants to create 3 ideas each within 5 minutes. Run this exercise for 6 rounds for a quick, half-hour brainstorming exercise.

How to run:

  1. Have each participant select one panel and begin writing ideas related to the topic or problem statement on the first row of sticky notes.
  2. After five minutes, participants move to a different panel and do another round of ideation, using the previous row of ideas for inspiration.
  3. Run four more rounds of this exercise, or stop when you have enough ideas.
  4. Cluster and vote on the winning ideas with your team.
The 6-3-5 template from Mural
The 6-3-5 brainwriting template helps you quickly build on your team's ideas and generate better outcomes.

7. Silent circuit

Best for brainstorming ideas for multiple different categories

This quiet brainstorming activity helps groups ideate across multiple topics while still being inclusive for quieter participants. This method is great for large groups, hybrid teams, and teams with introverts. This method is great for getting different points of view.

How to run:

  1. Write "how might we" questions or a different prompt at the top of each brainstorming section.
  2. Set a timer and encourage participants to pan around the canvas and silently add as many ideas on sticky notes as they can under each prompt.
  3. When time is up, participants return to their original question and share all the ideas for each category.
  4. Review the questions and create action items for the best ideas.
The MURAL Silent Circuit template
The silent circuit template both helps accommodate different ways of working, but also helps generate ideas across many different categories or topics.
Related: How to Facilitate an Effective Brainstorming Session

Benefits of brainstorming

Ideation

If you’re facing a difficult problem, brainstorming can help you to generate potential solutions that you might not have thought of otherwise. The free-flowing nature of brainstorming is meant to encourage exploration and a diversity of ideas — even those suggestions that seem tangential or unrelated at first may wind up forming the basis for effective solutions later on, or as inspiration for new products or features.

Organization

Brainstorming helps you to organize your team's thoughts and feedback on any project. By structuring your brainstorming sessions so that everyone is engaged and all ideas are recorded (made easier with online whiteboard solutions like MURAL), you can later organize your feedback by theme. This can help you to better assess which ideas are worth pursuing and which ones are not, and begin to quickly and easily outline actionable next steps.

Types of brainstorming

There are three main types of brainstorming. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages.

Asynchronous brainstorming: Individuals are presented with a question or topic to consider on their own. Later, team members contribute their ideas to a shared document for further discussion and organization. The main advantage with asynchronous brainstorming is that it inherently avoids issues like groupthink since each individual completes the exercise independently.

Synchronous brainstorming: A team gathers together to brainstorm in a meeting, with everyone sharing ideas and grouping suggestions by theme. The main advantage of synchronous brainstorming is that it allows your team to build on one another's ideas in real time, making your session potentially more productive and speeding up innovation.

So, which should you choose? Well, why not both?

A hybrid approach to brainstorming combines elements of both asynchronous and synchronous ideation. By establishing a basis of psychological safety, as well as taking advantage of modern, cloud-based collaboration tools and features built to avoid groupthink, it's really possible to get the best of both worlds.

Establish an environment of psychological safety

One of the most important elements in unlocking effective brainstorming is establishing a culture and environment of psychological safety. A brainstorming session should be one where everyone feels comfortable contributing without self-editing — in this phase, ideation shouldn't be interrupted by critiques or pushback. It's simply about collecting as many ideas and different perspectives as possible.

Psychological safety also means you are less likely to be impeded by groupthink — if the brainstorming session is characterized by a wide array of ideas and even constructive disagreement, you will have a much better basis upon which to formulate potential solutions than if everyone agrees or one line of thinking dominates your discussion.

Use private brainstorming within the context of a group meeting

To achieve this, you'll need to make people feel safe to share what they may think are outlandish or controversial ideas, which can be difficult to achieve. If you're not sure how best to begin, tools like Private Mode when using MURAL can help you avoid groupthink by hiding the feedback that others are providing. Alternatively, when using a shared digital space like MURAL, asynchronous brainstorming is also a viable solution — this allows people to reflect on their own, and bring their unique perspectives without outside influence into the meeting at a later date for discussion and organization.

Related: 5 Key Rules for Brainstorming

Define a strategic goal for your brainstorming meeting

Once you've established the approach for your brainstorm, it helps to give greater context to your ideation by defining an overarching, strategic goal. Are you at the very outset of a problem with a lot of variables, and trying to better understand how they relate to one another? Is the purpose of your meeting to discover new ways to improve user experience for a given product or feature? Each use case requires a different basic framework for your brainstorming meeting.

Use the techniques to run better brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming is an essential part of the innovation process, but it can be difficult to come up with new ideas if you’re not sure where to start. The techniques we’ve outlined in this post should help you structure your brainstorming sessions in a way that makes them more effective and helps you produce actionable insights and takeaways.

If you want to make your brainstorming sessions even more productive, using a shared digital space like MURAL not only unlocks visual thinking and online collaboration, but also builds in strategies to combat issues with groupthink and allows for hybrid brainstorming sessions that combine the best of asynchronous and real-time meetings.

MURAL offers a host of brainstorming templates to kickstart more effective and meaningful (not to mention fun) sessions. Get started today with a Free Forever plan, and invite unlimited guests so you can build the next great idea together with your whole team.

About the author

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.