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Brainstorming conjures up images of teams trying to hash out wild ideas around complex problems. Two heads think better than one, but brainstorming is as much about individual problem solving as it is about the group. The energies required for solo brainstorming are probably more, but the methods to build up the “storm” of ideas aren’t that different.

One of our readers had asked – How do writers at MakeUseOf find ideas for content? It’s a daily ritual. Brainstorming alone is half the fun; but it is a necessity for us creative types who work alone in our pajamas. Call it the search for inspiration, the Web has always been a useful ally when it comes to thinking up creative solutions and ideas. Here are a few ways to go solo with your brainstorming.

Preparation Is Half the Work

Brainstorming & Focus

Enter your creative sandbox. Shut the door, shutter the window, and buckle down. Discipline yourself to go without distractions as you play around with ideas in your sub-conscious. Start your solo sessions somewhere quiet.

It’s more about spontaneity — quickly capturing ideas; less deliberate introspection.  you are a blogger or a writer, try some freewriting exercises 5 Websites For Writers To Cure Writer's Block With Freewriting Exercises 5 Websites For Writers To Cure Writer's Block With Freewriting Exercises Read More . Alternatively, walk away from the computer and try to get your creative highs away from the digital scene. Prepare your brainstorming tools even if they are something as simple as pen and paper.

Tap the Power of Mindmapping

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Type mindmapping in Google Search and the first auto-suggest connects it to brainstorming. Just like brainstorming, you start a mindmap by recording the keywords on the topic rather than bothering about their placement. The organization comes later. Mindmaps not only help you visualize information but also extend it around the core concepts. You can take the mindmap approach to brainstorming by building a map around the good old rules of thumb — who, what, why, when, where, how, and how often.

Joel recently covered four excellent web-based mindmapping tools 4 Great Web-Based Mindmapping Tools To Enhance Your Creativity 4 Great Web-Based Mindmapping Tools To Enhance Your Creativity Mindmaps are a wonderful resource for brainstorming, planning, and managing ideas in a way that increases your productivity and enhances your creativity. But what if you want to create a mindmap without pen or paper? Read More you can use for solo brainstorming. Mindmapping is easy to pick up, and if you want to forego the online tools, just use pen and paper.

Go Nuts on Google

Brainstorming & Google

Google gives you a smorgasbord of tools for brainstorming around all the information that’s out there. One of the more underestimated tools is Google Instant which shows you search results even as you type. The smart predictions bring up ideas which you might not have thought of. You can start by playing around with a single letter and seeing the suggestions that get displayed. Then, try out a few keywords around your brainstorming topic.

Google wildcard operators are useful when you don’t know what you are searching for. You can use a Google wildcard search operator 3 Google Tricks When You Don't Know What to Search For 3 Google Tricks When You Don't Know What to Search For Read More like the asterisk (*) in multiple combinations to source ideas. For e.g. best * of the week; how to * technology etc.

Set Up Google Alerts

Brainstorming & Google Alerts

An automatic search tool like Google Alerts can help make brainstorming a constant activity. Set it up with just the right keywords and you can open a daily fountain of fresh ideas. Ideally set up the alert with the “only the best results” filter. You can use Google Alerts to monitor discussions happening in your niche, development trends, movers and shakers in your industry…and more.

I had touched upon the value of using Google Alerts to find fresh ideas 10 Uses of Google Alerts For A Freelancer 10 Uses of Google Alerts For A Freelancer Read More . The old article still holds good because Google Alerts hasn’t changed much over the years.

Look Away From Your Niche

The iPhone wouldn’t have been possible without going outside the box. Take off the blinders and look at domains other than your own. Some great innovations have come from cross-functional brainstorming. Business teams routinely use cross-functional collaboration to address complex problems. When on your own, you can check out websites and publications that address a different audience.

Looking away from your immediate area of expertise also helps to spark lateral thinking and gives you the chance to build upon other people’s ideas. You just have to browse through Kickstarter to see the kind of innovation that’s the result of thinking outside the box.

Seek Visual Inspiration

Brainstorming & Pinterest

Pinterest is a “search” engine in its own right. You can type in a query and bring up image boards and pins that serve as visual fodder for your brainstorming. For instance, if you want to write an article on standing desks, you can search through the social media site and come up with ideas like “How to Make a DIY Standing Desk That’s Cheaper Than Ikea” or “How to Make A Standing Desk with Recyclable Materials”.

You can also create your own visual brainstorming board on Pinterest and use it to pin inspiring visual cues from the Web. For any project, Pinterest is a great utility as a concept board.

Page through a Book

Brainstorming & using books

Going through books and magazines is always a good idea. You can do better from the comfort of your chair with the help of Amazon. When you are stuck for ideas, head to Amazon and the books around your interests. Take advantage of Amazon’s Search inside the Book feature to search and browse millions of books (for free) with keywords of your choice. Narrow down books that have a Look Inside! arrow attached to the book cover image.

Similarly, you can also use Google Books 10 Ways to Use Google Books for Lifelong Learning and Research 10 Ways to Use Google Books for Lifelong Learning and Research Read More to research an idea or expand it further. All for free.

Take a Walk

Brainstorming & Unplugging

Stop reading. Step away from your desk. Cut the cord. Unplug. Go outside. Change your environment. Doing something physical like taking a walk is usually recommended when you have exhausted your brain. Walking away from your notes could help the brain make sense of the information before it feeds the solution back to you.

There are many brainstorming apps online 5 Different Ways to Generate Ideas Using Brainstorming Apps 5 Different Ways to Generate Ideas Using Brainstorming Apps Read More that can help you with the first process – generating ideas. But it is you who has to sit down with the ideas and sift through them to find the gems in the rough. Polishing the best ideas is the toughest part because it takes equal parts skill and intuition. Brainstorming can only take you so far. So, tell us how far you go with your solo brainstorming efforts? Do you like to do it alone or do you find it more productive in a group? What tips and tools work for you?

Image Credit: Toolstop

  1. Joffre (J.D.) Meyer (@bohemiotx)
    February 25, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Really nice article that's up-to-date for utilizing social media.

  2. Stan Rosen Psy D
    February 24, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Jack,
    Teach the children to read and write English well. Nourish and support them to materialize their dreams. Teach them the computer where they can study often for free subjects that will inspire them to learn. Teach them to know themselves, their gifts, talents or skills. Help them to find their own special purpose in life to pursue and achieve them . Then, share it with others. Help them to build a social network with people that care about them. Then they will grow to be accomplished citizens, to improve their life standards, to help their country build a more civilized and prosperous society.

    • Saikat B
      February 25, 2014 at 5:14 am

      This idea is certainly not region specific :) It is universal...and the best one.

  3. Prakash
    February 6, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    First ever article which made me feel like useful of using the internet so far! Thanks for comforting me with my mind!

    • Saikat B
      February 10, 2014 at 6:05 am

      Glad the post helped. Thanks Prakash.

    • jack
      February 11, 2014 at 10:04 am

      You guys am in Kenya Africa,can you guys give me a great idea for free which I can use back in this environment

  4. kihara
    February 5, 2014 at 9:09 am

    Excellent article, I particularly love the part about looking away from your immediate area of expertise.

    • Saikat B
      February 5, 2014 at 11:17 am

      Thanks Kihara. For us tech writers, it could be slightly easier as everything can be connected to some technological application. A book I once read had recommended a creativity exercise which involved two different things, and then try to build a connection between them. Difficult but doable :)

  5. Stephanie S
    February 1, 2014 at 6:00 am

    This is really a great article. I was not going to even read it since I am a "senior citizen" and figured what do I need this for? I am not looking to invent anything or have a career, etc. Then I realized that all evening in the back of my mind is a problem with a grandchild that I want to reach out to and need ideas on how to let her know no problem is too big or too awful. By the time I reached the end of the article, I thought that these tools perhaps can help me help her. So, thank you very much. :)

    • Saikat B
      February 1, 2014 at 8:40 am

      Thanks Stephanie. It really feels great when our articles help our readers out in non-techy areas of their lives. Brainstorming is just another word for " idea generation". And who can deny, that we need ideas for every thing in life. Plus, it's fun, as it breaks us away from our monotonous way of looking at things :)

  6. Laurence D
    January 30, 2014 at 12:13 am

    Listening to my favorite music/songs gives me unique ideas cause i feel inspired when i listen to them.

  7. Matheus
    January 29, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    In my case, one thing that helps is going to those $1 shops (or any variation in the price). Looking at those hundreds of different items, trying to imagine what the guys that created them were thinking, or how I could use those things for something that they were not designed for, helps me having new ideas.

    • Saikat B
      January 30, 2014 at 2:10 pm

      Wow. This one is really a unique perspective. Interesting.

  8. shar
    January 29, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    What works really well for me is going to a bar and having my fav martini! Alcohol makes my creative juices flow immediately.

    • Saikat B
      January 30, 2014 at 4:42 am

      There's this long-standing debate on which one -- beer or coffee -- is better for creativity. I guess I know where you are headed with your martini :)

      Bar chats for creativity flow (and other kinds) is always recommended!

  9. Joel L
    January 28, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    For me, "Take A Walk" and "Look Away From Your Niche" are extremely powerful. Most of my best ideas have come while I was outdoors (there's just something innately creative about being out in nature). Looking elsewhere helps when it comes to breaking the mold of "same old same old" and can open the floodgates for some truly innovating ideas. Nice post!

    • Saikat B
      January 29, 2014 at 5:38 am

      Works for me too. Even the slight rush of blood while walking outdoors helps to clear the clogs.

  10. Sakshar T
    January 28, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Very helpful article!

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