We brainstorm every day without even realizing it. Every time there’s something to be accomplished or one end-goal has to be worked toward we’re going to brainstorm to get there. Brainstorming is a powerful but misunderstood tool that can be taken advantage of such that we get so caught up in the storm we neglect actually ever get things done. This post will walk you through the five steps to consider and implement that will teach you how to get more out of brainstorming.
The process for an effective brainstorm includes these five steps:
We’ll talk about each of these tactics in detail but for the sake of understanding the north star earlier rather than later, I’ll go over what each is.
Purpose is exactly why we’re discussing the contents of this post before getting into the details of anything. By understanding what you want to accomplish overall before getting into anything you can force yourself to perform better without even realizing it. For these reasons, we discuss all five steps before talking about anything individually.
Envisioning is important but very easy to get caught up in. What do you want things to look like when you are finished. How will you know you’ve accomplished anything? Do you understand what success looks like?
Brainstorming is exactly what this entire post is about. At the heart of this entire 5-part process, you’re going to get some good old fashion brainstorming in.
Organizing is another area people get caught up in. Some find it enjoyable to go so deep into the inner workings of systems and to manage the entire staff at such a level that may seem effective but is really just hindering people. Outline the projects and start taking action.
Taking action is the most important piece of this entire puzzle. Nothing will get done without any action taken. No one is going to do anything for you and your north star will never be hit without you making it happen.
I trust you have a better idea of what brainstorming truly means for your big ideas. If not, we will go further into granular detail right now.
Why are you here? Why are you doing this? What even is it?
Defining your purpose is crucial to understanding why anything else matters after that. Without the overall goal in mind, what are you working for? Without understanding your ideal customer or client you cannot even tell how you should be performing, dressing, behaving, or selling. Purpose is the highest level of brainstorming there is and it should be the first thing you decide on.
Deciding on your purpose may take days, months, or even years. Companies change their purpose even after going public and sustaining profits for years. There is nothing holding you to a purpose — if you feel you can do better in another area and serve a customer-base in a more effective manner by modifying your north star — do it.
How to find your purpose
I’m not trying to get too existential here. Your purpose and the purpose of your company, product, or service are very different. If you are unaware of your own purpose then all these other things that have to be defined will be much more difficult to determine. Finding the purpose of your company is all about what it can do best.
If you are a podcasting app but somehow come to the realization that you’d be better off sharing short blurbs and photos, you may pivot into becoming a social network. This is exactly what Twitter did. Their purpose was completely modified based on what external sources were using it for, not what it was designed for. Purpose is all about what it can do most effectively, not what it was meant to do. Hopefully what it is meant to do is what it doing most effectively — in that case, you are golden and saving time.
You will never succeed if you neglect to imagine what success looks like. If you can already envision your book, movie, or mobile app in the hands of your consumers and can taste the success it will bring you, you can move on. If you are struggling to even articulate what you are trying to accomplish you are going to struggle even more while implementing it.
Unfortunately, getting the most out of brainstorming requires very little time in the envisioning stage even though it is one of the most entertaining. I work with people constantly who get so caught up in envisioning their success and fantasize about all the fans they might gain without taking any action and ultimately falling to the ground. Sure, they saw what they could’ve had, but didn’t take any action to ever actually get it.
Finally, we reach the crux of the entire brainstorming process — brainstorming. Not as enjoyable as envisioning since it still requires some effort but still an entertaining process overall. Brainstorming requires nothing from anybody, there are no rules, and it has the potential to get a lot of work done.
Brainstorming is where you can draw out all the different and possible conclusions while determining different combinations and permutations of implementations in your mind. It’s the one area where no one can get upset or angry at inefficiencies because being wild and outlandish during this phase is exactly what is needed. No one should ever feel the need to suppress anything at this stage either — many times it is the oddly, never-thought-of, and the out-of-the-box idea that ends up being the most effective.
Organizing is another area where I see people get extremely caught up in. Some find it exciting to sit there and plan out the entire project for a month without making any actual progress on it. Some decide that to be maximally efficient they need to plan every single minute accordingly and wonder why by the end of their own due date they didn’t get anything done. Organizing the tasks and the logistics of your project is extremely important but should never take up more time than necessary.
Similarly, in software development, there are project management solutions such as waterfall and agile. Agile is the fast, dangerous, but nimble methodology that allows everyone to move fast, break things and find solutions quickly because they’re failing at such rapid rate. On the other side of the spectrum lives waterfall where management plans the project in such detail that everyone knows what they should be doing for the next year. These are just as dangerous, for other reasons, because one minor setback ruins the entire plan.
Organizing and structuring your projects is crucial. Having people who understand the staff, the project and the customer are going to be invaluable to how effectively you get things done.
Plans are worthless, but planning is everything Dwight D. Eisenhower
After you have organized the project, brainstormed the most important things to do and how to do them, decided what it’s going to all look like, and clearly define your purpose for doing it all, you’re going to finally have to start taking action. This is the ultimate step and the most important part of brainstorming. It’s going to be when you finally look at your brainstorming and say to yourself how incredibly effective you are being because everything was so clearly defined and laid out for you.
Taking action is the one area I see so few people excel in. People love talking about doing things and teaching others how they would do things but when it comes to actually doing things themselves they almost always fail.
Efficiency is not about productivity systems, plans for teams to work together, methodologies to follow, or meditating to understand your heart-rate, it’s about taking action, getting more done in less time, being effective, and being efficient.
Overall, the best system is going to be the one that works for you. There is no right or wrong way to brainstorm — nor is there a right or wrong way to manage your tasks, calendar, or movie-watchlist. If you decide brainstorming is a waste of time and knock out a New York Times Bestseller in the middle of the night, no one is going to exclaim that you did it wrong. Do what is best for you and do what works for you.
Brainstorming can be challenging since there are so many areas that one can easily get caught up in and realize how unproductive they’re truly being. Getting the most out of brainstorming isn’t difficult if even one of these steps is taken extremely seriously. Choose which step you are most passionate about and move on from there. If you decide you have the best vision ever you could always utilize external resources to turn that into an actionable plan. Idea people do not exist, and action will always have to be taken.