Backwards: 10 Creative Brainstorming Techniques Anyone Can Use

Ward Andrews
By Ward Andrews
Cover Image for Backwards: 10 Creative Brainstorming Techniques Anyone Can Use

When it comes to brainstorming ideas for innovative products and customer experiences, people often feel like they need to start with a big bang and then continue adding more, more, and more. Creating a memorable ending or achieving a meaningful goal is what we’re all shooting for. The irony is the best way to do that is to take a step back first — to draw backwards.

In this Creative Mornings presentation, I share 10 brainstorming techniques for drawing backwards to move forward, including:

1. Start with the worst first.

It may seem hard to come up with a good idea, but it’s quite easy to come up with a bad one. Start with the worst thing you can think of to set a low bar and a lay a foundation where everyone is comfortable contributing and sparking better ideas.

2. Embrace the power of teams.

Each of us can do amazing work on our own, but the best work often comes when we’re connected with others. If you’re feeling stuck, try collaborating with someone else to generate a greater density of creative ideas.

3. Get uncomfortable.

People enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. Instead of jumping to conclusions or critiquing others’ work, think about why certain choices were made or how it could be improved.

4. Don’t tell people your dreams. Show them.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and a feeling is worth a million. Rather than trying to tell someone a concept or idea with words, show it through sketching, visuals, or action.

5. If it looks too hard, look again.

Many ideas appear too complicated or scary to execute. However, there’s always a simpler way to prototype it, scale it back to an MVP version, or bend technology to do what you want it to do. If at first glance it looks too hard, look again. And if the idea scares you, that often means it’s worth it.

6. Don’t multitask. Microtask.

As busy professionals, we’re constantly multitasking: listening to a conference call while answering emails, jumping back and forth between tasks, diverging to think of tons of ideas while converging to narrow down the best ones. Instead of multitasking (which often actually reduces productivity), try microtasking, where you get hyper-focused on one small task, then add to it or complete it before moving on to the next.

7. Know the restraints to free the solution.

Most of us have been taught to “think outside the box,” a brainstorming technique for freeing your mind of any constraints to unleash more innovative ideas. However, people actually need constraints to be creative. Rather than thinking outside the box, understand what the box is (e.g., your goals, audience, style, budget, timeline, etc.) to identify solutions that will work within it.

8. Ask, “Why?” 5 times.

This brainstorming technique was originally used in the manufacturing world to explore the real causes of an underlying problem. It has the same benefits in UI/UX design. When someone comes to you with a new feature request or design idea, ask, “Why?” five times to get to the root of the issue and come up with a smart solution.

9. Look for inspiration elsewhere.

Our first instinct is often to look to competitors or industry peers when brainstorming ideas and best practices. But inspiration is everywhere. How could a company outside of your industry inspire your design? What about a person or object that’s completely unrelated to your product?

10. Bubbles, not balloons.

Giving kids balloons ends in tears every time. They desperately want to hold on to the balloon, but inevitably it flies away, pops, or deflates. Bubbles, on the other hand, are always a source of joy. Instead of holding on to your one precious “balloon,” look for ways to generate more and more “bubbles” while building on others’ ideas.

These easy-to-remember tips can help anyone unleash their creativity, solve the real problem, and create the future of their product or business. To learn more about these brainstorming techniques, watch the full talk at the top of this post.