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Tools for Brainstorming

Develop Habits for Creative Thinking

Calling all Creators!

(Yeah, you!)

Creativity may come naturally to some people, but even if you're not naturally inclined to exercise creativity easily, there are ways to develop habits to improve your abilities to brainstorm, create, and innovate.

Set the Stage

There are few things you can do to allow creativity to flow in your daily life.  Once you develop some habits it won't take as much work getting warmed up to the creative process.  Here are some ideas that may help developing creativity:

Be prepared:

Always have some way to record your ideas wherever you might be.  Capturing ideas can be half the battle at times.  You can create an old-school analog system or go with tech.  Either way, have a way to jot down or record ideas when they are fresh, and revisit them often.

  • Carry a planner or journal with you wherever you go
  • Have a stack of index cards or post-it notes nearby
  • Use an app (see the list on the right frame of this guide)
Develop your creativity:

Whenever you are practicing a new skill or talent, you need time to practice.  Schedule some focused and purposeful time to brainstorm, create, or innovate.  You can schedule a meeting with a group or team, or just time alone. Either way, set aside some time and stick to it.  Consider setting "idea quotas" for yourself.  (Michalko, pg. 12)  For example, set a creativity goal like: "Jot down 5 new ideas every day." This can be free-form or based on a theme.

A Note About Technology and Creativity:

Before you go off on a search for the best and greatest app to help with note taking or brainstorming, start with the basics and learn how to be creative with the traditional paper / pen or marker / whiteboard. There are times when technology can truly enhance our productivity. However:

  • Technology can create major distractions: Trying to find the best tool or app and then learning how to use the tool can take time away from the process.  It can distract from the tried and true steps to brainstorming, creativity, and innovation.  
  • Technology can fail: If an app depends on synchronizing across platforms, cloud storage, or connectivity, there may be times when failure will stand between you and recording really good thoughts.  Sometimes the proverbial cocktail napkin is preferable to an app you can't access.
  • Once you have an established creativity process that works for you then it will be easier to decide if a tech-enhanced tool would be a good fit for that process.

Tap into your Creativity: Brainstorm!

The Big Brainstorming Debate: Group or Solo?

Ask a number of people whether or not brainstorming can be performed alone or if it should be a group activity, you'll likely get different answers. Technically, brainstorming is a group activity.  However, in a pinch you can certainly spend time reflecting on a topic or question by yourself and jot down notes like you would with a group.  To make the most of the brainstorming process  you should consider including other people in the process and possibly also have someone else, preferably with experience, facilitate the process.

Gather Some Materials

At the very least you should have a pad of paper (or a white board) and something to write with.  You might also want to have flipcharts, butcher paper, Post-it notes, or index cards.  Consider color-coding ideas by using different colors for paper or pens / markers.

Ground Rules

Before starting to brainstorm, establish some rules so that everyone involved knows what to expect.  Here are some tried-and-true brainstorming ground rules:

  1. Quantity is the goal.
  2. No judgment should be applied to ideas during brainstorming.
  3. Unusual or bazaar ideas are okay and welcome.
  4. Combine and improve on ideas already on the table.

After the brainstorming:

  • Group ideas that are similar
  • Ideas that are not feasible should be placed in a "holding" location for further examination at a later time.  Again, don't judge.  The idea isn't going away, it's just being "parked" until later.

Old School Idea Capturing

Grab some paper, a journal, a planner, index cards, or some post-it notes.  Just get your ideas on paper.

Note Taking Apps

Please see the note regarding technology and creativity... 

You probably already have apps on your own phone or other devices that you can use to record notes.  Check out the apps included, or try one of these:

  • Microsoft OneNote
  • Evernote
  • Google Keep


Brainstorming Tech Tools

New apps and tools are being developed every day.  You may want to perform a web search for "top brainstorming apps" to see what's trending lately.  Again, please see the note about technology and creativity...