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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
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. 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
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 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
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 like the asterisk (*) in multiple combinations to source ideas. For e.g. best * of the week; how to * technology etc.
Set Up 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. 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
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
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 to research an idea or expand it further. All for free.
Take a Walk
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 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