Conventional brainstorming sessions can sometimes be a drain. We’ve all been there where everyone’s either exhausted, bored, or frustrated after hours-long discussion. It’s worse when the loudest voice tends to win and there’s some amount of office politicking involved. Also, brainstorming doesn’t bring out the best in shy individuals or people who struggle with conveying and convincing others of their ideas.
Hitting a mental wall is all too common even for the most creative of us. You may be hung up on an early idea, stuck in the same thinking pattern, or too concerned about the viability and the practicalities of your idea. So, when you’ve hit the wall, you need a different and fresh approach to get everyone pumping again.
Here are 10 techniques that are structured to get your lateral thinking capabilities fired up. Each of them will approach a problem differently, open your mind to different perspectives or reveal a loophole everyone’s missed. They are best done in a group session.
1. Mind Mapping
Mind Mapping is an old visual technique that is still popular today. It’s helpful for defining the big picture and how everything is interconnected, breaking down complex issues into an organised, manageable solution. It’s also a good method when you’re designing a completely new product, or when you’re overhauling an existing product.
How to run a mind mapping session:
- Start with one central idea. You can write it on a post-it and stick it on a wall.
- Add themes or ideas that branch off from that one idea.
- Continue adding more ideas for each branch, until everyone has finished contributing
- You can rearrange, swap, combine or remove ideas/themes/categories until everyone is satisfied with the visual map.
2. How Might We
This method tries to dissect a problem from multiple angles. It’s a pretty simple technique, but can be powerful in unlocking the core of the problem, and getting everyone to see different perspectives. I wrote an extensive article on this technique, and it’s something we use frequently in design sprints.
How to run a “How Might We” session:
- Identify the problem you are trying to solve.
- Start asking different “How Might We” questions, as a group or individually. You can extrapolate, reverse, and divide the problem with your questions.
- Display all the questions produced.
Take a vote on which are the top 3 questions worth addressing that will give the most benefit to your users.
SCAMPER is a similar technique to “How Might We”. It tries to slice and dice the current solution to improve it. As such, it is ideal for iterating an existing solution. SCAMPER is an acronym and stands for:
- Substitute: What can I substitute in the current solution/situation to make it better?
- Combine: What can I combine?
- Adapt: What to adapt?
- Modify: What can I modify?
- Put to another use: Who else can use it? How else can users use this?
- Eliminate: What can I remove?
- Reverse: What can I rearrange? How about if I reverse it?
How to run a SCAMPER session:
- Get everyone to pick one SCAMPER attribute they want to work on, or you can assign them to people.
- Think and sketch solutions for the next 10-15 minutes.
- Individuals will present their ideas to the group.
- Discuss, document, and vote on the best ones.
4. Worst Possible Idea
This is a fun activity to warm up your brain cells after a long lull. By thinking of the worst possible idea for a solution, you’re actually understanding the problem better and filtering out ideas that aren’t feasible, practical, and viable. Plus, it removes any judgement in the room because everyone’s ideas are bad, so you don’t have to be shy about yours.
How to run a Worst Possible Idea session:
- Define and set the parameters of the problem.
- Individually, start thinking of the worst ideas
- Present the ideas and discuss as a group.
- Vote on the worst possible idea, and document everything.
5. Reverse thinking
Reverse thinking is similar to the worst possible idea technique. But instead of producing bad ideas, you try to produce the best ways to make your solution fail. It is kind of like stress testing your idea or solution. This will help you identify things you’ve missed and generate new ideas.
How to run a reverse thinking session:
- Determine the problem, parameter, and scope.
- Come up with questions that flip the problem around. For example, if the goal is to get people to book services, how do you make it as hard as possible for your users to achieve that goal?
- Think of the answers and then discuss as a group.
6. Lightning Demo
A lightning demo isn’t for ideating technically. This is a pre-ideation stage where you take inspiration from the things that are demonstrated. It’s really good for kickstarting the process by sharing sources of inspiration and excellent examples. I’ve written an article about lightning demo in detail.
How to run a lightning demo session:
- Ideally, people should come to the session armed with their inspiration and examples. If not, spend 20 mins researching.
- Each person takes 5 minutes to present.
- As each person presents, one person captures the big ideas on a board.
- After everyone has had a turn, you’ll have a big board of examples and inspiration to start creating a solution.
7. Visual or Keyword Prompt
This is an exercise where you associate visuals or keywords with a solution. Words or images have the ability to trigger certain memories, expectations, and assumptions. For example, if you are designing a premium online experience, the word “luxury” will mean different things for people in the room. The idea is to capture as many interpretations as possible in order to generate a solution.
How to run a visual/keyword prompt session:
- Write keywords on cue cards, or use visuals.
- One person picks a cue card from the pile, and then everyone discusses what it means to them. Alternatively, you can write your ideas individually to present after.
- Document all the findings.
Brainwriting is a good alternative to brainstorming, when you have people who aren’t strong communicators. There are different versions to run it, but it is basically about writing down ideas, and then passing it around in a round robin style, so others can add on to it, or introduce a new idea. In the end, you will have a bunch of ideas that have been refined.
How to run a basic brainwriting session:
- The first person writes 1-3 ideas on a piece of paper, then passes it to the next person.
- The next person either adds on ideas or improves the ideas already on paper.
- The paper is passed from one person to the next until everyone has had a turn.
- At the end, everyone can discuss the various ideas on paper.
Although storyboarding is a UX technique, it can be helpful in an ideation session when there is a need to act out the user journey. This usually applies to complex processes, where the user is trying to achieve a few things, or there are multiple users. I’ve also touched upon storyboarding in a previous post.
How to run a storyboarding session:
- Determine the character, scenario, parameters, and problems.
- Start acting out the story, with each person assigned a character.
- Think of each characters’ motivation, emotions and reaction when playing out the story.
- Sketch everything in a sequence of panels, like a comic book.
10. Crazy 8
The Crazy Eights is a good technique to use when you already have an idea for a solution, but you need to design it better. It is a fast technique, where people are hand drawing freely without thinking of the feasibility or viability of the solution. Check out my Crazy 8 explanation in detail in a prior article.
How to run a Crazy 8 session:
- Each person takes a large sized paper and divides it into 8 rectangles or squares.
- Start the timer for 1 minute.
- Everyone will sketch a solution in the first rectangle.
- Repeat the 1-minute timer, and sketch in the next rectangle.
- Once done, allow everyone to present their sketches.
I’ve given you the basic way of how to run each session. It is up to you to improvise, adapt or even combine techniques if it works better for your group. During the ideation stage, you should focus on quantity over quality. These sessions are best run as a fun, casual, and non-judgemental session where everyone gets equal opportunity to create and contribute.
After the ideation phase, you’ll have a volume of ideas that you can start filtering the bad ones, and building on the good ones. As always, iteration is key in design thinking. It’s best to document your ideas so you can revisit them in a later iteration.