How to Brainstorm
Brilliant Ideas for Your Blog

image of many lightbulbs

Brainstorming is one of the most powerful creative techniques ever devised. When used properly, it can produce more and better ideas than any other process. It’s based on the concept that two heads (or three, or four, or more) are better than one.

Many would argue that you can’t create by committee. I agree. Writing and other creative acts are best performed by individuals. Creating by committee, well . . . sucks.

But brainstorming is not about executing ideas. It’s simply about coming up with ideas. And it is almost always more productive as a group activity. The result of a brainstorming session should be a long list of potential ideas which you can evaluate at a later time, acting only on the best.

Sure, you’ll come up with a ton of dumb ideas, but so what? Once you get the ideas flowing, the great ideas will float to the top. And some of those ideas that seem dumb end up being pretty smart — once you try them.

It’s like panning for gold. You have to sift through a lot of sludge to get to the shiny nuggets.

How to brainstorm with other bloggers

If you interact with other bloggers frequently, you probably do a little informal brainstorming already. It’s not just a good way to solve problems, it’s a great way to keep your blog fresh and interesting.

In fact, I’m thinking about brainstorming for bloggers specifically because more and more bloggers are beginning to work together to write blogs, create products, promote each other’s content, and feed off of each other’s energy and ideas.

If you’ve had bad luck with brainstorming, it’s probably because you did it in a stuffy corporate environment where no one feels free to really open up. But if you can assemble the right group of people who feel comfortable with each other, a brainstorming session can be like throwing a match into a room full of firecrackers. There’s a sudden and powerful chain reaction.

What can you brainstorm?

Anything that will benefit from sharper ideas is good fodder for a brainstorming session. Try brainstorming ideas for post topics (or perhaps a series of posts), product ideas, marketing angles, positioning for your business, contests, link building strategies . . . the sky’s the limit.

Here are a few suggestions for creating some fireworks of your own. These guidelines are intended for in-person sessions, so if you plan to brainstorm by Skype, chat, or other means, you may want to adapt the rules a little.

Before your session . . .

Select a leader. When I conduct a session, I often serve as both leader and participant. It works for me, but you may want to select a leader who will remain fairly quiet while the others let their imagination go wild. The leader also needs to keep the group on track and on a time schedule, stifle negative statements, help the group develop ideas fully, and assure that each member contributes.

Define your problem. The leader should write a clear definition for the problem the group will address. All you need is a sentence or two that clearly outlines the situation.

Create an agenda. Outline what topics you want to cover. Prepare a few ideas in advance to get things started, and be prepared to suggest questions to keep the ideas flowing.

Set time limits. How much time you spend depends on the group’s endurance and everyone’s schedule, but it’s usually best to keep it short — 15 to 45 minutes. If you go longer, take frequent breaks to keep people fresh.

Set quotas. The idea is to work fast and produce lots of ideas, which will be evaluated at another time. So decide on a quota, such as a minimum of 100 ideas. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. If you come up with just two ideas a minute, you’ll have 120 in an hour. You can set an overall quota or individual quotas for each topic.

Select your group and announce a session. Choose a mixed group whose blogs are at about the same level to participate. Avoid control freaks and people who need to monopolize the conversation. When you set things up, don’t call it a “meeting.” That conjures images of big oak tables and idiots in neckties. Call it a “session.”

Circulate background information. Prime session participants with a simple statement of the problem, background information, and examples of the kind of ideas you’re looking for.

During your session . . .

Review the problem and background information. Don’t put people to sleep, just quickly go over the problem, background data, and what you hope to accomplish. If there are questions, answer them before you get started.

Establish the ground rules.

  1. Each session participant must contribute ideas or add to another’s ideas.
  2. No one may criticize or evaluate any idea. Alex F. Osborn in Applied Imagination said it best: “Think up or shut up.”
  3. No one will hold back ideas. When something comes to mind, say it.
  4. The group will encourage wild, out-of-the box thinking.
  5. The goal of the session is quantity, not quality. Quality will be evaluated later.
  6. Develop ideas fully. Participants should hitchhike ideas on the ideas of others to produce more and better ideas.
  7. Once an idea is developed, the group will move on.

Take detailed notes. Whether written or typed, someone needs to rapidly capture the flow of ideas as they occur. One option is to record the session and transcribe the recording. I’ve found that a combination of note taking and recording works best. The notes serve as an outline of the major topics covered and the recording fills in the details.

After your session . . .

Allow for the incubation of further ideas. If you’ve had a productive session, ideas will continue to occur to people for hours or days after the session. Ask everyone to write down these ideas and submit them later to record along with the main session notes.

Type up and circulate all the ideas generated. The final product of a session will be a multi-page document that lists every single idea created. Nothing should be edited. Organize or classify these ideas for later evaluation. Don’t be surprised if you have literally hundreds of ideas.

Evaluate your ideas and choose the best. The same group can evaluate the ideas or another group can. It’s often best for those responsible for the problem to evaluate the ideas, but you can run into “idea ownership” problems. On the other hand, another group may not be able to grasp the significance of many of the ideas generated. You’ll have to experiment.

When the dust settles, you should find yourself with some surprisingly good ideas. And the whole process often energizes all the participants.

Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work perfectly the first time. It usually doesn’t. Assembling the right group, creating an open atmosphere, and producing the best results often takes time. As with so many other things in life, practice makes perfect.

For more tips on being creative, read 10 easy ways to instantly energize your creative powers at my Pro Copy Tips blog.

About the Author: Dean Rieck is one of America’s top freelance copywriters and publisher of the Direct Creative Blog and Pro Copy Tips, a blog that provides copywriting tips for smart copywriters.

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Comments

  1. I agree! Most of us think that our ideas are bad, or unsuccessful. But if we challenge ideas to flow, we will get to the good ones, even great ones, even best ones!

  2. “It’s like panning for gold”

    That sums it up very nicely. I’ve thought that before. Throw out as many ideas as possible, and hold nothing back. You just never know what will surface.

    “2. No one may criticize or evaluate any idea.”

    This is , IMO, THE most important rule. It should be number 1. Much like the 2nd Amendment, without it, the rest would be for naught.

  3. Hey Dean,

    The best ideas often come from those fresh to the industry they’re working in, coming from another one. They’re not yet limited to the rules and can see things from an outside perspective.

    What a great idea to take a method–brainstorming–that is constantly used in other fields of work and applying it to blogging.

    Interesting you mention that bloggers already brainstorm ideas through networking and communication.

    I’ve found that mini-brainstorms sometimes happen when leaving high-quality comments on articles.

    Not just a comment agreeing, but further discussing by adding an additional point, constructively criticizing something, bringing up a question, and so forth.

    The author of the article replies with further discussion. Sometimes they mention getting an idea from the comment, or not seeing a certain side of the topic, and I get ideas while participating in a discussion on a topic I might’ve not otherwise thought about.

    I’ll have to try a formal blogging brainstorming session now.

    Here’s to effective idea generation, the sifting of the crap to get to the gold nuggets,
    Oleg

  4. this is good stuff. I often have trouble coming up with ideas to write about on my own, but far more trouble colaborating on the end product.

    You have it right: come up with ideas as a group, execute as an individual.

  5. A lot of great information here. I recently started brainstorming with a few other bloggers in my industry. We’ve started appearing on each others blog as guest writers. It’s been great so far.

    If you’re a big dummy like me, brainstorming with other bloggers is a great idea.

  6. Nice! This is like a mini-guide to brainstorming. I never knew there were so many rules. I’ve had excellent results with brainstorming with others when I run into trouble.

    Often my problems are solved within 10 minutes. Amazing how effectively it works sometimes. I’ve also found it effective to just write everything out on paper if I’m alone and can’t get ahold of anyone.

  7. I love collaboration. It’s hands down one of my favorite things about working online. I’m no longer limited by proximity, something that makes more difference than I ever imagined.

    However, I’ve never thought to bat 100 ideas back and forth in a single session. I usually like to keep it at about a dozen and explore each a bit deeper. I love the idea of machine gun brainstorming, though.

  8. This all ties into the general trend of open sourcing and mass collaboration. I am big on making people realize that there is always something to learn from any successful endeavor that can apply to and benefit your own. Mass collaboration is successful, so why not apply it to your own projects? Blogging is still in its early forms as a source of information and knowledge. Collaboration will surely be one of the trends that defines the future of blogging.

  9. My problem is that I have too many ideas, and not enough judgment about which of these ideas should be acted on, and which discarded. Also, it’s of course easier to have an idea than to implement it, so the pile of competing ideas grows ever larger. Sigh… The end result of this process can be rather confusing.

    For my Christmas gift wish, I dream this blog might have a forum where each of us could start a thread listing the project ideas we’re considering, and others could compassionately jump in could help kill some of the ideas off.

    Reverse-Brainstorming.com: A forum where bad ideas go to die (thus saving the idea owner a lot of work!). :-)

    No kidding, I have lots of bad ideas to contribute to the cause, and would donate hosting, software and tech support for such a forum, should the leaders of this blog ever find that helpful.

  10. Dean,

    One of my favorite brainstorming techniques is the reverse brainstorm. It helps people warm up and get out of an idea rut.

    The method is simple. Take any problem and reverse it. Then, brainstorm. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to start the ideas flowing. Once you’ve hit your idea quota, reverse the ideas again.

    For instance…start with something like “how can we improve customer support in 2010″ and make it “how can we have horrible customer support in 2010″. From there, brainstorm ways to deliver awful service. When you hit your idea quota, reverse the ideas back and you’ll have ways to ensure quality customer service. Prioritize them and either develop plans for action or brainstorm some more.

  11. @Phil – to blend last week’s conversation with this one, a forum like that is one of the benefits of paid content. Both Teaching Sells and Sonia’s Remarkable Marketing Blueprint have forums where members who don’t necessarily know one another outside of the forum are able to collaborate on ideas, ask for help with ideas, or engage in general brainstorming with other creatives and business people.

  12. @Michael, that is a cool technique and one I hadn’t thought of in awhile, thanks!

    @Phil, what Sean said. And it’s just possible we may have something along those lines coming up for you soon. :)

  13. Thanks Sean and Sonia. Just entered the world of Sonia via her newsletter course signup form, looking forward to the series and learning more.

  14. Dean, great post, I’ve used brainstorming in the “corporate environment” many times with mixed results. My experience is that a concise definition of the problem is key, along with a skilled leader/moderator to keep things flowing and on track.

    I would love to see a follow-up post on conducting brain-storming sessions online so that I can have brain-storming sessions with my fellow bloggers without having to leave my computer.

  15. Echoing Sonia! Michael, that is an idea I’m going to apply — the reverse bit.

    Phil, YES to a lively forum. I’m remote; communication with other bloggers will be mostly in the blog-i-sphere.

    I’m ready to move my blogging up a notch.

  16. This is an absolute necessity for businesses and it does not happen nearly enough!! Thanks for the guidelines. They are a great help especially to those companies that feel like a fish out of water of where to even start brainstorming.

    I liked the comment about reverse brainstorming! Great idea!

  17. Hey Dean,

    It’s been getting a lot of press lately, but have you heard about skribit (http://skribit.com/)? It’s a really great community for bloggers to bounce ideas off of each other- to put it simply.

    It might be a bit of a brainstorming shortcut in that you’re not generating the ideas with a team at a table in a conference room, but I think it’s a really great way to utilize the internet for this sort of thing.

    It’s also a nice home for all those fantastic ideas that you come up with that have absolutely nothing to do with what you write about.

  18. @Michael, great idea! I never thought of it in that way. That can completely open the flood gates for brainstorming. Thanks a lot for that.

  19. Harry Waisbren :

    One part of this (excellent) post that might warrant further discussion is a contrast you make early:

    “Many would argue that you can’t create by committee. I agree. Writing and other creative acts are best performed by individuals. Creating by committee, well . . . sucks.”

    I’m not sure if this is entirely true, although undoubtedly there is a massive uphill struggle to create by committee. Even when done successfully the process might suck, but the result certainly wouldn’t.

    For example, this begs the question of whether a transcendent rock group is a group of individuals reaching inspiration on their own, or whether they inspire each other through their team chemistry to something much greater than the sum of its parts.

    The creative process is a deeply personal experience, and I consider blogging to entail this process considering the transparent and open nature of the writing. Yet, could bloggers do more than brainstorm together, and collaborate as a team of play-writes would through their deep chemistry?

    I’m unsure, but as blogging becomes increasingly ubiquitous and collaboration is made easier by new technologies and practices, I am sure that this form of the creative process will be increasingly tested.

  20. @michael, I LOVE the reverse brainstorm strategy. Going to use that from now on.

    My other go-to, similar but not exactly the same, is “stupidest ideas you can think of.”

    I even use this when I brainstorm by myself. Because even with no one else in the room, I’m ashamed to write down stupid ideas. I always hit “delete.”

    Unless, of course, stupid ideas are the point.

  21. This is a great piece. To continue to increase the quality of content, bloggers and I believe freelancers in general will need to lean on the strengths of others to achieve brilliance.

    You might want to see that idea in practice. Our local projects Madison Ave. Collective and Matchbook focus on bringing together freelance creatives to do good work.

  22. Dean – EXCELLENT article! I just forwarded this to my Mastermind team that meets every week. This could spice up the group for sure!!

    From past experience Ground Rule #2 is key. “Think up or shut up!” …. brilliant! We used to have a rule in our management meetings – NO STUPID IDEAS. Every idea was valued, accepted, given true and honest consideration. Absolutely essential.

    Thanks again for the article!

    Garry

  23. We currently have a guy working with us on staff that starts out a wild and crazy idea with, “I’m not even sure I think this is a good idea – but, it’s in my head so I’m going to share it!”

    We encourage that sentiment during all brainstorming sessions. I am amazed at the ideas that seemed crazy the first time I heard them……..

    Garry

  24. Great ideas for brainstorming for ANYTHING!

  25. Agreed with your brainstorm idea, like 7 points of ground rules would more helpfull in session. Some time we are forgotten in time limits and don’t know what’s the right topic!

  26. I would recommend going no longer than 15 minutes, it is just too hard and unproductive after that.

  27. Great post! We often use this method in our office in smaller groups and proves to be effective. If there is someone with more knowledge about a topic it’s a great way to understand more than just reading about it. It also provides the opportunity to pose questions and get a better understanding yourself without feeling conscious that you’re going off on the wrong track.

  28. I have never been good at brainstorming to be honest. When I lie in bed, I often come with ideas there.

    But I’ll definitely try brainstorming again. Definitely an awesome idea, brainstorm session for the win!

  29. In the office where I used to work, we would also brainstorm for ideas from time to time. But Dean’s post reminds me of guidelines how to do it more effectively. And of course, it’s nice to see how brainstorming can be applied in generating ideas for blogging too.

    I wonder if you can brainstorm alone. Is that technically possible too?

    Thanks once again Brian.

    Jose

  30. This is really a great post! I agree with your description of a leader. A leader should really have more time to listen and to encourage others to participate. It doesn’t mean that if you’re the leader, your ideas are always true and correct.

  31. A good brainstorming session will just feed off itself. I have found that getting started is the hardest part, but once the process starts, it’s like a ball rolling down hill, the ideas just keep coming and sometimes they come very fast. Great post with lots of useful tips!

  32. A great tool to use to capture thoughts during a brainstorming session is a mind map. There are software versions (e.g. Mindjet, my favorite MindGenius, and free version like Free Mind) that allow you to rapidly capture thoughts and link them together.

    Using the software allows you to re-organize everything when you are done without a lot of hassle.

    I am very much in favor of capturing the thoughts and making them available visibly during the session versus only recording. It seems to help keep people engaged.

    With the ability to share screens, this can still be done with remote participants.

  33. I like brainstorming.I usually use it to find the topic of my article.Even dumb ideas can give me some inspiration.

  34. That’s really brilliant. Getting ideas by talking to other bloggers is a great way to come up with creative ideas. There are days when you feel totally drained and your brain is not working right. By the help of others, you get to have that light bulb switch on instantly.

  35. Good work Dean. Another brainstorming trick that I like to use is that every member of the team can write their ideas down and introduce them altogether, maybe a non-biased thrid party can type them all up. This way no one can get a brilliant idea shot down, and the importance of coming up with an idea as a team shows more than the importance of the individual trying to push for their idea to go through.

  36. Love this — it brings some structure to a creative process where so many of us don’t know where to begin. :)

  37. Great thought Dean.
    One area where we ‘brainstorm’ is with the use of a keyword research tool. It’s one thing to come up with a great idea but a completely different matter to get a post discovered by the search engines.
    So we use a tool called Market Samurai http://www.marketsamurai.com
    What I do is think of a topic and then use the tool to expand that idea and find different ways of thinking about that topic.
    The net result is always something different but within certain parameters where we’re trying to increase our depth of content in a particular area and keyword intensity

  38. Dean, I agree with you completely on this one.
    I use brainstorming to develop ideas for my blog every day. It keeps my content fresh, quality and interesting (at least that’s what my readers say).

  39. I like the bit on not holding back on ideas. I think this is a big problem for a lot of people, especially when they are with a new group of people. I have found that my best ideas come from the most odd and fun comments and concepts.

    @Micheal Haven’t heard of that yet and it sounds brilliant. Next time I am in a brain storming session I am going to have to try that one. Sounds like a good way to start thinking out of the box.

  40. For # Andee Sellman, One Sherpa

    I’ve used marketsamurai, and that’s one of the best tools out there, not to mention the free tutorials they have on their site.

    I think this is a great starting point to get new and fresh blog ideas, that you can expand later on, and you get ranked in Google for your posts too, as an added bonus :)

  41. Great post. I’ll add this link to my Facebook Redwood Writers (California Writers Club). I think this would be a great workshop for writers who are developing their book platforms. Thanks!

  42. Great post. I’ll add this link to my Facebook Redwood Writers (California Writers Club). I think this would be a great workshop for writers who are developing their book platforms. Thanks!

  43. I like to keep an “idea bank” for blog posts – and then let it sink in there for a while, and slowly but surely, the ideas on how to craft the post (perspectives to take etc) will come out!

  44. A great tip for getting really creative ideas in the initial brainstorming stage is to think about something completely unrelated, then try and connect that unrelated item back to the original problem.

    Say, for example, you were brainstorming ideas to market your blog. Then you thought about a dog. Now you must find a way to connect the unrelated idea (the dog) with the target problem (marketing a blog). Here goes…..

    A dog’s bark can be annoying, but does get attention – perhaps by making a loud annoying noise (or post) you could get your blog attention too.

    Not too bad.

  45. Sadly, because there are very few bloggers who are in my particular niche, I largely miss out on the brainstorming part. of course, that is also a HUGE advantage to have virtually no competition.

  46. This is an absolute necessity for businesses and it does not happen nearly enough!! Thanks for the guidelines. They are a great help especially to those companies that feel like a fish out of water of where to even start brainstorming.

    I liked the comment about reverse brainstorming! Great idea!

  47. From years we are using brainstorming in our workplace , it has been very effective . What I believe in is there is nothing which can hold you back , just do not give up no matter how bad your idea is , you just never know what may surface.

  48. These are some great suggestions to help with brainstorming for bloggers. Now time to apply. Thanks for sharing!

  49. Most people actually brainstorm without even thinking about it, when trying to find new ideas.
    I normally get all my ideas while trying to sleep or while sitting at my job :p

    / Kenneth