The Power of Brainstorming

Let’s talk about brainstorming today. It’s my favorite technique to use whenever a problem has me stumped, I don’t know what to do next, I feel overwhelmed, or I encounter some sort of road block. You can brainstorm by yourself, with a partner, or in a group.

To brainstorm, you simply throw out any and all ideas that pop into your head. Don’t judge, don’t edit yourself, just get it all out there. While a lot of what you come up with is utterly useless, it helps you refine ideas and start thinking creatively. The fact that much of what comes out of a brainstorming session won’t be used doesn’t matter because the few ideas that do work are well worth the time and effort spent.

When you’re brainstorming by yourself, it’s helpful to write down your ideas. You can brainstorm with a pen and notebook, use a word document on your computer, or other tools like mind-mapping software for example. The most important thing is that you have a way to record your ideas and then go back and organize them later.

When you’re brainstorming in a group, writing things down isn’t always necessary, but it can be helpful to have a few notes written down on a notepad, a shared digital document, or a white board.

The reason brainstorming works so well is because it allows you to quickly tap into your creative thinking. We’ve talked in an earlier post that you have to go past all the obvious answers before you can start to look at a problem with fresh eyes and from a different angle.

A lot of different ideas will come up in a good brainstorming session. Often something small will spark another idea and another. This is when you’re really starting to tap into the creative thinking part of your brain. It’s also why it’s important not to judge or discount thoughts in a brainstorming session. Get it out there and put it on paper. You never know what will spark the one idea that will turn out to be the perfect solution.

When you’re brainstorming by yourself, it’s OK to take your time. Get the first flow of ideas out there and then walk away. Come back a little later with fresh eyes and see what you can add. If you’re brainstorming in a group, it’s important not to judge or ridicule. Don’t dismiss an idea, no matter what. It doesn’t matter that you know this won’t work. What’s important is to get the thought out there and allow it to inspire the other members of your team.

Essential Oil: Brain Power™

Brain Power™ is a blend of essential oils high in sesquiterpenes—like Royal Hawaiian Sandalwood, Blue Cypress, and Frankincense—to promote a sense of clarity and focus when used aromatically. Diffuse up to 1 hour three times daily.

The Power of Open Ended Questions and Discussion

There’s a lot you can do to encourage creative thinking in all areas of your life. In yesterday’s post, we talked about changing the climate and culture around you, as well as, your environment. That’s one strategy to get you there. Today I have another one for you – open ended questions and free discussion.

This works well when you’re working with someone or in a team. We’ll start there, and then I'll show you some tweaks you can use to make this work when you’re on your own. The idea is to start with some open ended questions and encourage as much discussion as possible. When you don’t limit yourself through the questions you ask, you leave room to get creative, to push past boundaries and come up with something unique and creative.

Here’s a super simple example to illustrate. Let’s say you’re thinking of painting your bedroom. Instead of asking yourself or your spouse if you should paint it cream or yellow, keep it open ended and ask what you should do about the walls in your bedroom. Asking this way, allows you to explore a lot more options. You may consider different colors. You may consider painting one wall yellow and the rest a complimentary cream or off-white color. You could consider wallpaper or stripping it down to the brick or wood beneath all that color. Or you could decide to leave it alone and spend your time and energy on repainting the kitchen instead. Do you see how open ended questions allow you to explore all your options?

This type of question also works really well in team or family meetings, particularly in the early stages when you’re trying to figure out what your options are. If you want an example of creative and out-of-the-box thinking, ask your young kids what would make for a fun vacation. You’ll be amazed by their creativity. With adults, we sometimes have to suspend belief and the limits we think are in place. Encourage your team to think past the lines that they think are insurmountable because “it’s just not done”, “it’s too expensive”, “it won’t work”, and the likes.

Get the people around you – and yourself – used to answering open-ended questions. Encourage discussions and brainstorming. When it starts to get to the point that it sounds ridiculous (take a vacation to the moon anyone?) you know you’re in the realm of creative thinking. Try it out for yourself and get in the habit of using open ended questions as much as possible.

Essential Oil: Citrus Fresh™

This blend of Orange, Tangerine, Grapefruit, Lemon, Mandarin orange and Spearmint is said to stimulate the right brain to amplify creativity and well-being. Citrus Fresh™ helps eradicate anxiety and works well as an air purifier. When diffused, it adds a clean, fresh scent to any environment.

Creative Thinking Starts By Looking At The Problem From A Different Angle

So far we’ve chatted a lot about the need to think creatively and have even gotten in the habit of using daily affirmations to help us do just that. While I’ve shared a good bit of information about what creative thinking is I haven’t really given you a lot of hands on advice about how to actually start to think that way. That’s about to change. In today’s blog post, we take a look at how we can start to think creatively by looking at a problem from a different angle.

Start With The Obvious And Turn It Around

Look at a problem. Try to figure out how to solve it. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? That’s the obvious answer, the obvious solution. The quickest way to get creative is to take that and completely turn it around.

Let’s say that your problem is paying off your student debt. The obvious solution would be to go after a bigger paying job, a promotion, or a raise, so you have more money at the end of the month to apply to the debt. Turn it around and make a large payment towards that debt at the beginning of the month. This forces you to prioritize, spend less throughout the month, and make due. You’ll pay off your debt in record time without having to wait around for a bigger, better paycheck.

Question Every Assumption You Have

We are all raised to do things a certain way. We make assumptions, and they are what hold us back from coming up with creative solutions. To make sure you can see the most creative and effective solutions, you have to get in the habit of questioning every single assumption you have.

Let’s use something simple as an example. I’m sure you’ve been told plenty of times that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That’s an assumption that’s been picked up by plenty of doctors to the point where we all believe that it’s true. What if it isn’t? What if you’ve been forcing yourself to spend 20 minutes every morning making and eating breakfast, and it simply wasn’t as important as you think? What if getting those extra 20 minutes back makes you get into the office earlier and helps you impress your boss and get that promotion? What if you’re just fine working on an empty stomach until 11am? What if fasting a little longer in the morning was actually good for your health?

Don’t take stuff at face value. Don’t do things because that’s how we’ve always done them. Question them and see if there’s a better solution waiting on the other side.

Brainstorm And Don’t Be Afraid To Go Crazy

Brainstorming is a great way to get to those creative solutions. You can do this by yourself, but it works even better in a team. Sit down and just start to throw out possible solutions or ideas. Don’t censor yourself; don’t edit… just start to let it all out.

In the beginning, you’ll get all the obvious answers that you’ve already thought of and dismissed. That’s OK. This is a process, and the conventional ideas have to come out before you are able to get to the truly innovative and crazy stuff. Keep pushing and keep digging for more and more, no matter how outrageous or ridiculous it seems. This is when you and your team start to think creatively. Keep going and see where it leads you. Most of the ideas won’t work, but if you’re lucky you will find the one that’s just crazy enough to work.

Essential Oil: Brain Power™

Brain Power™ is a blend of essential oils high in sesquiterpenes—like Royal Hawaiian Sandalwood, Blue Cypress, and Frankincense—to promote a sense of clarity and focus when used aromatically. Diffuse up to 1 hour three times daily.

How to Grab Your Dream of Writing a Book

In 2013, the Huffington Post reported that more than 80% of Americans want to write a book–about 200 million people, just in the US. You can Google to find the details, but I'm intentionally not linking, because the statistic alone is discouraging enough. I could go on to list the reasons they don't write, even though self-publishing through Amazon and other venues make it easier than ever before. You know why you don't write, if that's your dream.

Writing a book seems daunting. All that word-wrangling and how do you come up with a plot and do you have to be drunk and do you have to use a computer and I don't have a pen name and-and-and-

Whew. Slow down. Take a breath. Here's some advice on how to make that dream a reality.

What's Your Superpower?

If you've never written much beyond a college paper or high school book report, don't start out with the “great American novel.” Nonfiction is a great place to begin. It's not necessarily easier than fiction, but it's probably closer to what you've already written in the past. The first step isn't to put words on paper, but to think about what you know. Stuck in traffic, scrubbing off in the shower, waiting in the carpool line–seize any moment you're not actively doing something and rummage around in your head for subjects that you know lots about or in which you're very interested. No, it doesn't have to be as huge as “world peace” or “solving the college football playoff issue.” The topics should, however, be broad. In what areas do you give people advice? What seems easy for you that others find challenging? Cooking? Cleaning? Fixing cars? Repairing electronics? Creating web pages? At this point, don't censor yourself (unless it's illegal or immoral, but hey, it's your brain). Let your imagination have free reign. If you're not sure, ask friends or coworkers or significant others what your superpowers are.

Do not, at any point, go to Amazon and see how many books there already are on the subject. Your future book is the only one written by YOU!

Brainstorm an Outline

Once you've settled on a topic, start brainstorming on paper. The purpose of this step is to figure out what subtopics exist within the broader topic you chose. Grab a stack of index cards or pads of sticky notes and your favorite pen. As fast as you can, without stopping to think if it's good or bad, jot down one idea on each card and rearrange them later. If you can't think of subtopics, you should back up and choose a larger topic.

Take those cards or sticky notes and arrange them in the order that makes most sense to you. Think of how you would explain your chosen topic to someone new to the subject–because that's what you'll be doing! Add notes as you see gaps in the process you've outlined. Some areas might be large enough to be broken down further, and that's okay; in fact, it's a great thing.

Make a note of areas within that topic you think should be covered, but you don't know a lot about. Those areas are ripe for research. But don't get too caught up in the research process. That, too, can take much time away from actually writing. Although it's a process I love and adore!

Transfer the notes to your favorite word processing program. Don't worry about the perfect numbering system. A simple 1-2-3 is fine, or go with a more elaborate I-A-1, or whatever works for your brain. You may find that the process of typing the outline reminds you of steps you left out. Add them in at this stage. When you've completed the outline, save it as a separate document.

Here's part of an example outline for a book on creating a webpage with WordPress:

  1. Obtain hosting
    1. Pros and cons of various hosts
  2. Obtain domain name
    1. How to do it
    2. How to choose a great domain name
  3. Install WordPress
    1. WordPress.com vs. self-hosted WordPress
  4. Edit settings

Start Writing!

Start your writing with a copy of your outline, and you won't have to worry about staring at a blank page. Begin with the first topic of the outline and write about it as if you're explaining it to someone new to the subject, as I mentioned before. Spend as much or as little time as you feel necessary to cover the topic thoroughly. Don't worry about using “writerly” prose. Write in a way that feels natural to you. An important part of writing is finding your voice–that is, writing in a way that is unique to you, that allows your personality to come through.

Although I have a hard time following this advice myself, resist the urge to edit yourself as you write this first draft. You don't have to be perfect the first time through. Naturally you want to do your best work, but that comes through each successive draft. For now, focus on getting that knowledge out of your head and onto the pixels.

Let's don't gloss over that phrase “as if you're explaining it to someone new to the subject.” When I'm writing on a technical subject, like creating a webpage, I have to remind myself over and over to explain terms that are normal to me, but may not be in everyone's vocabulary. In the outline above, I used the words “hosts” and “hosting.” For the average person, those words means something entirely different than they do in a technical context. Explain terms in a way that makes sense to a reasonably intelligent person who may not know what a domain name is or understand the intricacies of hook size in crochet. Further along in the process you'll have plenty of chances to fix anything that doesn't make sense to your chosen audience.

After the First Draft

When the blessed day comes that you've written your way through your outline, save the document and set it aside for a day or two. Turn your focus elsewhere. The idea is to gain a bit of distance from your first draft before you start editing it. Never assume your first draft is your last. You will have made mistakes, typos, grammar problems and other issues. That's no big deal; everyone makes mistakes. Correcting them and strengthening your work on each successive draft is the mark of a professional writer. But celebrate what you've done. You're already farther than almost everyone who aspires to write a book!

That's all for this post.