My (solo) brainstorming process

Posted on October 30, 2010

I’ve been away on holiday this week and despite trying to switch off for at least a little bit I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about our projects new + old.

It seemed appropriate to talk a little about my favourite brainstorming tips. As with most idea generation / thinking / processing techniques the things that work best vary between individuals but hopefully some of these may be of use or may encourage you to think about how your brain can be optimised!

Set yourself a specific question

  • Much like when prototyping and aiming to answer a question, state the problem that you want to think around clearly, this gives you an easy way to assess whether you’re done and also keeps you focused on the main purpose that you started on. Of course the specific question could be a very broad subject with a huge spectrum of answers but writing down the question at the top of your piece of paper / OneNote page / middle of your mindmap is a great starting point I find.

Set your targets

  • This isn’t something I do that often to be honest but is a good tip I’ve seen recommended, my target tends to be to come up with an idea (or 5!.. Or 10!) that I’m happy with in a certain timeframe rather than setting constraints of certain number of ideas generated.

Blitz your brain

  • You may already fully understand the question domain when you start brainstorming about it so this may not be needed but if it’s an area you don’t work in regularly or if you want to be aware of all the latest facts (especially when thinking about game ideas / marketing) I tend to Google for a while and check my RSS feeds for every related (even slightly related) article and skim read them before starting the brainstorming. I also cheat slightly in that I tend to write down early ideas at this stage sometimes.

Focus / Flow

  • Vital for any type of serious thinking, for getting into ‘flow’ I tend to get some fast music with no lyrics (or just any kind of noise to be honest) to drown out distractions much like I do when working on code for long stints.

Mindmapping

  • Generally for brainstorming I produce a mind map though I tend to not worry about how ideas are connected that much till after I’ve finished writing (or typing) ideas down. I used to always use Mindmapping software for idea generation on computer but I’ve fallen out of the habit and tend to use OneNote for most things now, I still structure my thoughts in a hierarchy but it’s less spread out (OneNote does support putting notes anywhere on a page though)

Summary / Re-organise

  • After the initial pass writing ideas down I tend to go through and review them. This involves de-duplicating ideas, possibly an initial ranking of them, perhaps categorising the ideas. I tend to discover new links between ideas at this stage and this can sometimes be the really creative part of the process.

That’s my basic process for brainstorming, it was actually a harder thing to describe than I thought it would be – perhaps I should have brainstormed brainstorming a bit further (hoho!).

There are lots of other tips and tricks like these on the web if you use your Google skills but a couple of books I’d strongly recommend are

  • Pragmatic Thinking & Learning
    • An interesting look at how we process problems and also looks at left / right brain thinking. Talks about the idea of optimising your brain for the tasks software developers (and other creative people) face.
  • The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell
    • Covers some great brainstorming tips from Jesse, my favourite of which is playing with clay or other toys to keep your mind playful as you think. This is also just a brilliant book and I would recommend to anyone.

And one particular website I thought of around this kind of thing is

  • http://www.mindtools.com/
    • Subscribe to an RSS feed on this, not a big fan of the site look/layout but some of the content is great.

Things we’ve been enjoying this week

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