DIY Brainstorming

How to Generate Ideas Anytime, Anyplace

Think back to the last time you were stuck and needed to brainstorm. We’re you sitting in a conference room with your colleagues eager to engage? Probably not… you were staring at your computer alone with your arms crossed and teeth clenched.

Here are the strategies to help you conduct your own one-person DIY brainstorming session with divergent thinking techniques to overcome the lack of diverse participants.

1. State the challenge.

2. Start with the end in mind.

  • What is the result that I want to see, feel and hear? Be specific.
  • Why do I want to achieve this result? Be passionate.

3. What is your “blink” solution?

  • Take five minutes and brainstorm possible solutions to clear your mind of preconceptions.
  • How am I going to achieve this result? Be bold.

4. Be curious first . . .

  • What do I need to be more open-minded about to see new possibilities and to identify “killer phrases” that would stifle my creativity?
  • What is unique about the challenge that I have not seen in another situation? Identifying its unique features can help you see the root cause of the problem or the seed of the solution that you need to grow.

5. Break out of old thought patterns by reframing your challenge.

  • What is similar to the challenge? What analogy can give me insight and strategies to benchmark?
  • How would another industry respond to this challenge? Think like Apple, Zappos, Starbucks, NASCAR, or another country.

6. Visualize the opposite.

  • What’s the exact opposite of the way the competition is doing it today?
  • What if we actually did this opposite idea? Could there be a breakthrough idea here? If so, flip an opposite into an opportunity.
  • Brainstorm ideas you would never suggest as possibilities.
  • What if we actually did this never idea? What’s right about the never idea?

7. Evaluate your ideas.

  • Take your ideas and put them on the wall or lay them out on a table. Rearrange them, combine them and add to them. Be careful not to group ideas that, when combined, hide the unique value of the individual ideas.
  • Create a bulls-eye diagram with “Must Do” at the center, “Ought to Do” on the next ring and “Nice to Do” as the last ring. Then sort your ideas into the three rings.

8. Renovate while you innovate.

As you are creating ideas to implement, it is vital for you to identify unsuccessful or inhibiting programs and policies to abandon that will allow your ideas to be successful. Two questions to ask are:

  • What should I start doing?
  • What should I stop doing?

The energy released from abandoning unsuccessful programs and policies will help drive your innovation efforts.

9. Present your ideas with passion.

Most people only think of one way to present their idea: a PowerPoint presentation with too many slides, charts and words. Create at least two different presentations for your favorite idea and see what you can learn from the divergence of approaches.

Suggested presentation formats:

  • The one-minute elevator speech.
  • The 15-minute stadium speech to your 10,000 fans.
  • The golf-cart strategy: Sell the idea during eighteen holes of golf.
  • The napkin pitch: It’s just what is on the napkin and the story you tell.
  • The billboard strategy: Sell the idea on a highway billboard.

10. A Final Thought: Be curious, be passionate and be bold.


Chic Thompson is author of What a Great Idea! and Yes, but… He is a Batten Fellow at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and adjunct faculty at The Brookings Institution. Harvard Business School wrote a case on his speaking career entitled, What a Great Idea! For more information, go to


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