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What is brainstorming + 15 effective brainstorming techniques


Jan 3, 2018
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The word “brainstorming” might automatically make you cringe. If you’re recalling painful hours spent scribbling ideas for a history lesson back in school, you can let out a sigh of relief.

In Knowledge Commerce, brainstorming isn’t busy work. It’s fundamental to unleashing your creativity and finding new ways to reach your audience.

Without a brainstorming strategy, how will you generate and vet new ideas? How will your team communicate ideas and bounce strategies off one another?

It doesn’t have to be hard — and it definitely won’t be boring. If you understand brainstorming, you can make it an invaluable part of developing marketing strategies as well as new digital products.

We’re going to show you how. By the end of this article, you’ll have the tools and knowledge you need to brainstorm effectively, whether alone or with your team.

What is brainstorming? 

A crowded coffeeshop with people sitting at tables

Brainstorming refers to the practice of generating ideas and putting them down in concrete form, such as on a piece of paper or in a computer program. You can use brainstorming to force your brain to come up with new solutions to problems or ideas about a product.

Traditionally, brainstorming is a group activity. The energy of the group helps each person feed off everyone else. In addition to generating ideas, brainstorming can help you weave connected ideas together to form a cohesive whole.

However, there is no one correct way to brainstorm. Some people like to storm on their own, a pad of paper and a pen in hand, a cup of coffee close by. They like to get their ideas on paper before they consider discussing them with others.

Meanwhile, other Knowledge Commerce professionals need engagement with other people to truly get into the brainstorming frame of mind. You might have heard of a “brainstorming session.” That’s exactly what we’re talking about here.

Why and when should you brainstorm ideas?

A conference room with people meeting

If you have a problem you need to solve or if you’re about to embark upon a new project, brainstorming is the best way to get ahead quickly. You’ll generate ideas fast and move toward a solution or a product more efficiently.

However, brainstorming doesn’t always happen at the beginning of a project.

Have you ever watched the television show “House”? The characters engage in a technique called differential diagnosis. They look at the set of symptoms a patient has and throw out theories about potential illnesses or diseases.

It’s a way to shoot down problems that couldn’t be the culprit and to consider diseases that might explain the patient’s symptoms.

Brainstorming can work in a similar way. If you feel “stuck” with a current project, engage in some brainstorming to figure out what’s wrong. Come up with and either discard or consider potential solutions.

What are the best conditions for brainstorming? 

People around a table with a paper cloud in the middle

Whether you’re brainstorming with a group or by yourself, you need an environment that’s conducive to creativity and affords you privacy. You might have a brainstorming session in your office, for example, or in a quiet meeting space, such as a coffee shop.

Ideally, everyone will be able to contribute evenly to the discussion. You might have to set up rules for letting people speak.

It’s also a good idea to nominate someone to write down the ideas. That way, you have one running list instead of several separate lists. Of course, this doesn’t apply if you’re brainstorming on your own.

You also want to set up for the long haul. Don’t start a brainstorming session when two team members have an appointment in half an hour. Give yourself plenty of time to go through the process.

What are the four basic rules of brainstorming?

In 1957, advertising executive Alexander Faickney Osborn came up with four rules of brainstorming:

  1. Generate as many ideas as possible before considering any of them.
  2. Never criticize another participant’s ideas.
  3. Avoid censoring seemingly “crazy” ideas.
  4. Evolve existing ideas to expand on them.

While you don’t necessarily have to follow these rules, they can prove helpful when you’re stuck in a rut and frustrated by your lack of progress. They help give your brainstorming sessions direction.

They make sense, too.

First, the more ideas you have, the better. Even if many of them will never come to fruition, you’ve cleared out the mental cobwebs, so to speak.

Second, you don’t want to come down on another team member for voicing an idea that you find disagreeable or outlandish. That kind of behavior stunts creativity and thwarts teamwork.

Third, “crazy” ideas can sometimes lead to the best solutions. It’s a sign that you’re thinking outside the box, which means that you’re exercising high levels of creativity.

And fourth, you don’t just use brainstorming to come up with new ideas. You might be able to innovate on old ideas to make them fresh and usable again.

What is individual brainstorming? 

Individual brainstorming occurs when you storm by yourself. It’s just you and a piece of paper or electronic device.

There’s nothing wrong with individual brainstorming. While groups often generate more ideas (and more diverse ideas), you can come up with plenty of solutions or ideas on your own. Once they start flowing, you might have trouble stopping.

Later in this article, we’ll show you several brainstorming techniques that work for individuals who storm by themselves. You need a strategy — a way to keep the process organized — so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

What is group brainstorming? 

Group working around a table

Group brainstorming works the same way as individual brainstorming except that two or more people participate. Everyone gets to throw his or her ideas into the hat, which makes it a social experience as well as a practical one.

Have you ever gotten into a conversation with a friend and started talking about an invention or some other idea that captivates you both? As you each toss out ideas, you get more and more excited.

This phenomenon happens when Knowledge Commerce professionals get together for a brainstorming session. Energy levels increase, team members congratulate one another on great ideas, and bonding occurs.

Over time, groups that brainstorm together often become more in sync. They know how every other person on the team thinks, so they’re able to storm more efficiently.

How do you brainstorm effectively? 

Person in front of a laptop, working

Effective brainstorming, as we mentioned above, requires preparation. In addition to following our guidelines regarding the right time and space for your session, you must also know how to guide yourself or your group through the process.

Following are four steps you can take to make your individual or group brainstorming session as efficient and fruitful as possible.

Step 1: Prepare the Group

Even if you’re working by yourself, you need to prepare yourself for brainstorming. Choose a place in which to storm, let the others know about your plans if you’re working as a group, and explain what brainstorming is if other people don’t know.

The idea here is to get everyone into the right frame of mind. This isn’t about moving forward on a project or reaching a specific goal. You’re just producing, discarding, and converging ideas. That’s the entire point.

Step 2: Present the Problem

Your next job is to make sure that everyone is in the right mindframe for brainstorming. Explain the problem that you hope to correct so that everyone is on the same page.

The goal here is to make sure that everyone works toward a common solution. You don't want the conversation or the ideas to spread out in tangents.

As mentioned above, it's a good idea to welcome so-called wild ideas, but those wild ideas need to have a foundation in the goal that you are pursuing.

It's your job to make sure that everyone understands the problem that you're trying to solve. You can prep the group by explaining what has and has not worked in the past and by letting everyone know that each team member has a voice.

You might even want to write the rules of brainstorming in a place where everyone can see them. That way, everyone knows how to behave during the brainstorming session.

Step 3: Guide the Discussion

Once you have outlined the problem, start the brainstorming session by asking each team member to present one idea. You don't expect to generate this solution during this first round, but the goal is to get people talking and sharing.

As the brainstorming session unfolds, it's your job to keep the conversation on track and to remind everyone of the rules. Even though brainstorming is a relatively informal process, it should still yield fruitful results if everyone retains their focus and shares with on their minds.

Step 4: Take Action

At some point, the brainstorming session must end. You need to decide which of the ideas have merit and move forward with the solution.

Maybe you've found a way to solve a marketing problem, for example, or perhaps you've come up with your next online product. Regardless of the subject of the brainstorming session, it needs to end in action.

What are the most effective brainstorming techniques? 

Person placing sticky notes on papers

Dozens of brainstorming techniques exist, each of which comes with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. You can try multiple brainstorming techniques to figure out what works best for you and your team.

Following are some of the most effective and popular brainstorming techniques. Based on their descriptions, choose the one that sounds like it would work best for your work environment.

1. Teleporting Storming

You don't need any special powers to take advantage of teleporting storming. Instead, all you have to use as your imagination.

Sometimes, Knowledge Commerce professionals get caught up in their everyday environments. Since you probably don't have the time or resources to jet off to Tahiti in search of enlightenment, try teleporting storming to get the juices flowing again.

All you have to do is close your eyes and imagine that you're in a different environment. It could be your home, your favorite vacation spot, a particularly inspirational place on the planet, or a beloved coffeehouse.

Choose a "destination" that makes you feel calm, peaceful, and inspired.

Now, imagine what you would do to solve your current problem from your "destination" location. What if you had infinite resources? What if your current barriers did not exist? How would you approach the problem then?

In many cases, teleporting storming unleashes new ideas because you are not bound by the constraints of your existing environment. You can do this by yourself or with a group.

2. Figuring Storming

Most of us fantasized about living a day in the shoes of someone we admire. It could be a famous actor or actress, a successful business person, or even a beloved relative.

Figure storming works similarly to teleporting storming except that you're putting yourself in someone else's shoes instead of putting your shoes in another destination. Imagine what you would do to resolve your current problem if you were the person that you admire.

3. Roadmap Storming

Maybe you are in the midst of developing your next online course. You know what you want to achieve with the course and you're pretty sure how you want the course to begin, but you're not sure what happens in the middle.

That's where roadmap storming comes into play. During roadmap storming, your goal is to map out each step in the process to connect you from point A to point B.

This type of storming often works best in a group because everyone can contribute their ideas and help connect the dots. However, this doesn't mean you can't conduct roadmap storming by yourself.

Focus on adding each new "dot" in the process and figuring out how to connect them in a way that makes sense.

4. Cultural Storming

We all know how important cultural norms have become in digital marketing. It's essential to understand your audience's demographics and other qualities so you can effectively market to them.

You have your own set of cultural norms that defines who you are and influences your cognitive processes. But what if you could shuck those cultural norms and become someone else — it's only in theory and if only for a brief period of time?

During cultural storming, your goal is to put yourself into someone else's shoes in terms of their cultural heritage, background, and other demographics. As that person, how would you approach the problem that you're facing?

5. Mind Map Storming

Maybe you remember mind maps from back in school. Mind maps are among the most popular brainstorming tools because they are easy to use either by yourself or with a group and because they're highly rooted in organization.

However, keep in mind that they don't just work when you're researching term papers. They can also become highly effective when you're trying to solve a business problem or create a new product.

A mind map starts with a single idea: Usually, the problem that you're trying to solve. It's especially useful when you're trying to resolve a creative issue, such as creating a new online course or a membership site.

After you write the goal or problem on the center of a piece of paper, circle it and create dashes around that central idea. Use the dashes to write down sub-ideas or -categories.

You can create as many branches as you want around the central idea until you start to see a pattern. What sub-idea makes the most sense when it comes to carrying through on your plan?

If you are working with a group, consider creating a mind map on a larger campus. A white board or black board works well for this purpose, but you could also use a large sheet of paper or an online mind mapping tool. Let everyone contribute to the sub-ideas and let team members contribute their thoughts on each potential avenue.

6. Superstorming

Superheroes are extremely popular these days. From Superman and Batman to Spiderman and Wonder Woman, most people have a favorite superhero.

Consider using your knowledge of superhero universes to help you resolve your business problem. During superstorming, you play that fun childhood game in which you imagine that you have a superpower of your choosing.

Armed with that superpower, how would your circumstances change? How might you approach your problem or goal more aggressively to achieve drastic results?

7. Medici Effect Storming

Think of the Medici Effect as a metaphor on steroids. It's a common innovation technique that businesses and even military forces use defined parallels between seemingly unrelated things or ideas.

You can use Medici Effect storming to figure out how disparate ideas might intersect even though they don't seem to have any correlation. For instance, you might introduce your new product as an online course that replicates the production of a movie.

Your online course has nothing to do with movies. But by presenting the information with this unique parallel, you might reach more people and create a fun way to share your knowledge.

8. Blind Writing Storming

This brainstorming technique is best undertaken alone, but multiple people can do it at the same time. You or everyone on your team gets a sheet of paper. Set a timer for a certain length of time, such as 15 minutes, and use that time to write continuously.

Don't censor yourself or otherwise think about the words you're putting on paper. Instead, focus on getting your ideas down as quickly as they come into your mind.

If you're doing this with the group, you can later read each other's pages and perhaps find connections between the ideas you've each come up with.

9. Group Ideation Storming

If you often work alone, you might find yourself bereft of ideas. It's a common affliction for creative types who prefer to work by themselves but you sometimes get stumped when creating a product or attempting to solve a problem.

Just because you don't work with a group on a day-to-day basis doesn't mean that you can't engage in group ideation storming.

Gather a group of willing friends or family members and ask them to help you participate in this little exercise. Explain the problem with the goal you're trying to achieve, then asked them to help you bounce ideas around.

Even though they're not part of your industry, they might have some excellent insights that can help you overcome whatever hurdle you're facing. In fact, the fact that they aren't part of your business might work in your favor. They are completely fresh minds.

10. Reverse Storming

You might have heard of reverse engineering. Reverse storming works in a similar way.

During reverse storming, you consider the goal that you want to achieve or the problem you want to it resolve, then flip it on its head. What if you don't want to achieve that goal or solve that problem? What would you do to thwart your progress?

It sounds a little strange, but it can actually help you gain better insight into your business and your online digital products. Maybe you'll discover that you've actually been sabotaging your own success by working against your goal.

11. SWOT Analysis Storming

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Is often represented with four boxes in a quadrant, each box labeled with one of those four words.

The goal for this brainstorming session is to determine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to the current problem you are facing. From that information, you can often find the way forward by minimizing the threats, maximizing strengths, building up weaknesses, and embracing opportunities.

12. Five Whys Storming

The five whys storming technique relies on your ability to question your assumptions and to gain insight into your problem via asking more questions. You can do it by yourself or as a team.

Start by writing down your problem or goal. Then, using five sticky notes, begin questioning your assumptions.

The first sticky note should answer the question, "Why is this a problem?" On your second sticky note, answer the question, "Why is that true?" You're referring here to the statement you made on your first sticky note.

Continue this until you get to the final sticky note. You should now have five statements that answer the question, "Why?"

If you're doing this is part of the group, make sure that everyone can see each other's sticky notes. You can even put them all on a wall together.

What patterns have emerged? How can you turn those question marks into actionable next steps?

13.Brain-Netting (Online Brainstorming)

Many Knowledge Commerce professionals work with remote teams. You can't just get together in a conference room and brainstorm the afternoon away.

This shouldn't stop you from brainstorming altogether, though. Use Brain-Netting to brainstorm with your team remotely.

Many different technologies exist to make this happen. You can use Skype conversations, Slack conversations, conference calls, or any other mode of communication networks for your team.

Best of all, you can use any of the brainstorming techniques we mentioned on this list in a virtual way.

14."What If" Storming

This is another question-based brainstorming technique. You won't be asking, "Why?" Instead, the question of the day is, "What if?"

Start with a single what-if statement. For example, "What if we narrowed our audience for the next online course?"

Keep asking these what-if questions until you start to see patterns emerge and great ideas taking shape. The goal isn't to imagine what you should do, but what you could do.

15. Rapid Ideation Storming

During rapid ideation storming, the goal is to put yourself in your audience's shoes. Instead of thinking like a Knowledge Commerce professional, think like the people who might buy your digital products.

Start writing down ideas based on what you know about your audience. What do they want to learn? How do they want to learn it? What format would make the learning most effective?

Each time you come up with a new question, take your ideation in a new direction. The goal is to get as many ideas down on paper as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Knowledge Commerce brainstorming example 

Now that you're familiar with brainstorming techniques, let's walk through a potential scenario that you might use for your Knowledge Commerce products.

Let's say that you want to develop a membership site for people who want to learn more about photography. Your goal is to provide in-depth information for aspiring shutterbugs in a conducive environment for learning.

You're just not sure how to go about it.

Start with a mind map. Write the goal in the center of the piece of paper, then start brainstorming ideas right off that central concept. Answer questions related to your audience's needs, goals, and desires.

Then move on to rapid ideation. Get into your audience's shoes and figure out what they might expect from your membership course. How can you elevate the level of knowledge you share to make a membership fee worth their participation?

As you can see, brainstorming can yield lots of different ideas and potential avenues for success. After you have all of this information written down, start striking out ideas that don't have merit or that you lack the resources to pull off.

Now you are left with a group of ideas that might potentially pay off.


Brainstorming isn't just for high school students who need to write research papers. It's an extremely effective technique for Knowledge Commerce professionals you want to take their businesses in exciting new directions.

Once you understand the purpose and goal behind brainstorming, you can create the ideal conditions for a brainstorming session. Familiarize yourself with the rules of brainstorming so you don't get off track.

Remember that you can brainstorm by yourself or with a group. The decision is entirely yours.

Start by preparing the group or yourself for the brainstorming session. Make sure that you and anyone else involved completely understand the problem. It's your job to guide the discussion or brainstorming session in the right direction. Then all you have to do is take action.

Try several brainstorming techniques until you find the one that works best for you and/or your team.

Have you tried brainstorming to create better digital products?

Use Kajabi To Turn Your Knowledge & Content Into Products You Can Sell 

As a Knowledge Commerce professional, you must continually provide your audience with valuable, useful information that they can use to better their lives — whether personally or professionally.

Brainstorming can make this process much easier and allow you to come up with creative concepts that will allow you to effectively take on the competition.

Fortunately, Kajabi provides you with all the resources you need to bring your brainstormed ideas to fruition. You can use Kajabi to start a blog, membership site, group of sales pages, and other marketing tools. There are also on-platform technologies for creating landing pages, email marketing strategies, and more.

Start your free trial today!

Still researching?

Check out Kajabi’s free downloadable ebook resources.
Attend free Kajabi webinars Monday - Friday to answer your questions about Kajabi's capabilities.
Tune in to the Kajabi podcast, Kajabi Edge to hear interviews with Kajabi Heroes.

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What is brainstorming + 15 effective brainstorming techniques
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