Knowing how to generate great ideas with purpose is an important skill to have. How many times have you heard a solopreneur say "I have ideas coming out my ears – in fact, I have more ideas than I can handle". I do hear this frequently. Interestingly enough, having ideas doesn’t necessarily translate into earning money.
If having ideas was the path to instant profit, we would all be rich. Ideas are not difficult to come up with; however, purposeful ideas, an “idea on demand”–now that is a skill that I respect. Not everyone has that particular skill.
Ideas may come from many directions. But what we need are ideas that come when we need them for what we need and for that we need brainstorming skills.
Brainstorming is an awesome skill to develop and I definitely want you to learn it. I want it to become part of your marketing arsenal.
Sometimes we get stuck in a rut–our ways of thinking become habitual. We learn how to do things and we tend to keep doing it the way we learned. Brainstorming is about shaking it up and asking ourselves, “is there another way to take a look at it?” The goal of brainstorming is to think about our goals and problems in a new way so we come up with new results.
Have you heard about right brain/left brain? I have studied the topic; however, I am not an expert. I know that I have a tendency toward left brain thinking. The left brain thinker is logical, sequential, rational, analytical, and objective. We look at the parts of something to try to understand it and we form strategies. I like lists, numbers and problem solving. The right brain person is much more random. They are intuitive, holistic, synthesizing, everything is subjective, they look at the whole to try to understand. They like to present possibilities. I am such a left brain kind of person that brainstorming is not a natural skill for me. I have had to loosen things up and learn to suspend belief so the brainstorming process can take place. I have had to open up my mind to possibilities and be willing to looking at things in new ways.
One of our objectives in brainstorming is to engage both the left and right brain. If you are left brained, you want to stretch over into that right brain territory to embrace creativity. If you are right brained, you want to stretch into the left brain territory to get some clarity and adopt a little form. I want to introduce the steps of brainstorming as I use them.
First of all, I do not sit down and declare that I am going to brainstorm for awhile and just think hard to generate ideas, ideas, ideas! That is what some people think of brainstorming–just stting down and allow free associate for awhile. I am more purposeful than that. I pick a specific issue that is stumbling me up or a problem that needs to be solved or a goal I have not been making enough progress on. Basically, I pick something to specifically brainstorm for.
Identify one thing. Don’t start with something too wide and varied. If you want to start an online business but you do not know what it is yet, I will most likely be starting wide. There are a few situations where one would brainstorm wide but then you are going to zone in on something specific.
In this Ted Talk, Matt Ridley shows the history of combining ideas to generate new ideas:
I usually have a specific problem that needs solving so I will identify the seven steps that I go through:
Step #1. Identify resources.
What do you have going on for you that can help you with this problem?
Step #2. Identify obstacles.
What stumbling blocks are in the way? What do you think is causing the problem?
Step #3. Brainstorm possible solutions.
This is where we want to suspend belief. Do not over criticize the ideas that you start to write down. I like to use index cards or just slips of paper and just start writing down my ideas. While you are in this step, everything is possible. Write down big, expansive, exciting, dreamy ideas that utilize your resources and crush your obstacles. Here’s this idea, here’s that idea, here’s another idea and so on. When I am done, I may have an half inch stack of index cards or a bunch of slips of paper.
Step #4. Group Ideas
I take my cards and I start bundling my ideas into groups in whatever way makes the most sense to me. We do this because seeing several ideas grouped together has a way of sparking even more ideas. Go ahead and write down any new ideas that pop up and continue moving cards around into related piles.
Step #5. Evaluate for Value
Up until now we have suspended belief, we have accepted all possibilities, big expansive exciting dreamy stuff. Now that we have it grouped, let’s go ahead and evaluate it critically. What makes the most sense and has the greatest chance for success? What do you believe you could make happen? You might actually identify more resources as you look at a group of ideas and know that you can handle that or know somone who could help you with it. Or you might actually see another obstacle pop up.
Evaluate the ideas and take the groupings that have the greatest chance for success in your opinion and take the other ideas and push them aside. Evaluate and decide which one is the best–what is the best bundle of ideas? Perhaps rephrase it a little bit so that you have an idea that is a good solution to your problem. It might be a mix of two or three different index cards that have come together.
Now, take the best ideas and move them to an Idea Sheet. Identify the pros and cons of this idea/solution in the space provided.
Step #6. Consider Timing & Benefits
Determine the level of urgency. Is this solution time sensitive? Identify the area of your business that would benefit most from implementation.
Step #7. Table or Tackle
Now we make a decision, table it or tackle it. If you decide the problem is urgent, the solution is plausible and you have what you need to make use of the idea/solution, go ahead and tackle it. Tackle it means you move on to create a specific action plan. You put it on your To Do list. You schedule it on your calendar and you get it done. If you feel it is plausible enough but you do nothave the time for it right now or you do not have all of the resources you need, it might be best to Table It. Don’t be afraid to ‘Table’ good ideas. If I come to the end of my brainstorming session with a decision to table, I don’t mind.
We can’t solve every problem today and shouldn’t try to. We have to focus on issues we can solve with a preference given to those that bring in profits. If we spend time poking at problems and ideas we don’t have all the answers for yet, we are spinning our wheels.
I only have so many hours in a day and several different income streams. I must focus my best time, creativity and resources on the income streams that work. The alternative is to focus on what is not working – and that’s just not smart.
Occasionally I come to the end of a brainstorming session with not to just table it, but to dropkick it. This is a terrible project. I don’t have anywhere near the resources necessary to make this work. The obstacles are too huge and I don’t even care. If my best brainstorming efforts didn’t yield hope, I am probably going to ditch the project; however, I am more likely to table and come back to it because situations change over time.
What to do with the Ideas you Table? If you have a file box or section of a file cabinet to use, consider setting up a few folders with various labels. Or use Evernote. Some labels you may need are:
- Do These Next (ASAP Ideas)
- Spring Prep (Pull & Schedule in the Winter)
- Summer Prep (Pull & Schedule in the Spring)
- Fall Prep (Pull & Schedule in the Summer)
- Winter Prep (Pull & Schedule in the Fall)
- Do This When I Hit $____ Per Year (BIG ideas you are not ready for.)
When you are done brainstorming something and decide to table for later consideration, you can pop your Idea Sheet into one of your folders. Once it is tabled, it is out of sight and out of mind.
Oh, and to make sure you check these folders, you can set up a ‘Tickler’ note your calendar. This is simply a reminder such as ‘Pull & Evaluate Spring Prep Folder’.