Brainstorming is a method for generating ideas to solve a design problem. It usually involves a group, under the direction of a facilitator.
When you’re brainstorming on your own instead of in a group, the rules of the game need to change. Since no one will be there to call you out, ring a bell, or send you back to your stuffy cubicle for breaking the rules, we’re employing the honor system to keep things civilized.
Rule #1: Unplug
Nothing can bust a brainstorm — not to mention a small business — faster than negative comparisons. You may think good ideas are best influenced by other ideas, but when you’re on hour three of scrolling Instagram, feeling too overwhelmed by others’ apparent success to move, you’ll know how wrong you were. So unless you’re just out to drool over your foodie friends’ fancy meal pictures, stay off social media until the idea generating is done.
No judging. You know how you feel about yourself on the not-so-fun morning after an oh-so-fun night with friends and cocktails? Yeah—no bueno. When it comes to brainstorming, don’t apply that level of judgment to the ideas you develop. Basically, no self-shaming allowed.
Remember, there are no bad ideas. OK, technically, there are bad ideas. Like setting up an SEO agency in a saturated market. Otherwise, every idea that occurred to someone would become a thing. But if you dismiss every idea as “bad” before giving it a chance to prove itself, you’ll have no ideas from which to choose. Furthermore, just because you think it’s a bad idea now doesn’t mean others won’t love it. For instance, in 2016, people voted online to name a $287-million government-funded polar research ship the “R.S.S. Boaty McBoatface.”1 What may seem foolish today could be tomorrow’s viral sensation.
Let it grow. Ideas are a lot like infants. In the beginning, they’re small, cute, and interesting—but also kind of dumb and useless and needy. Like babies, ideas make you question everything you do, rob you of sleep, and lead you to look differently at the surrounding world. For the same reasons parents reproduce, you generate ideas: to create a legacy, change the world, and maybe have a funding source to pay for the nursing home one day. Most babies can’t achieve those goals while still drooling and wearing diapers, but nurture them and let them grow, and they can do all that and more. So can ideas.
Be a goal digger. Brainstorming without parameters can feel like floating out to sea without a lifeline. Pick a time limit, idea quantity, or other goal to reach for so that the tide of creativity doesn’t swallow you whole.
Take a nap. Because, damn it, that’s one of the solopreneur perks you exchanged for a steady paycheck! And really, when all else fails and you can’t come up with one single idea, naps can help press the reset button on your brain. Seriously. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, have determined that a 90-minute nap can lead to similar learning benefits—a must for creativity—as those produced by a full night’s sleep.2 Don’t have that long? Another study shows that even a 10-minute power nap can help you feel restored and boost your performance.
Take a shower. Studies show that getting naked leads to better ideas. OK, we made that up, but the surprising number of good ideas that arrive in the shower makes it a strong hypothesis. So if you wake up from your nap feeling not-so-refreshed, take it all off and head to the shower. If nothing else, your roommate or spouse will appreciate a less funky you. A win-win.
Be kind, but don’t rewind. Let’s face it: some days are diamonds, and some days are rocks. If you’re having a “rock” kind of day and you’re just not feelin’ it, then take a break. Be kind to your creative soul (who is normally a total workhorse). Accept that you’re not going to have a marathon of genius ideas and move on. Did you hear us? Move on! Don’t dwell on it and do something else. Tomorrow (or later today, after that 10- or 90-minute nap) is a new day in the realm of ideas.
Treat yo’self. First, see Rule #1. Now go shopping for the best pen and notebook you can find. You know that haute leather notebook that’s been calling to you from the overpriced boutique window? Buy it now. That beautiful paper and pen will be begging you to use them.
Take it with you. The best part about being a solo brainstormer is that you can generate ideas wherever you are. You probably always have your smartphone handy, but don’t forget to bring your fancy notebook and pen wherever you go, too. Ideas are all around you—even in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Getting out of your normal setting can often spur an idea, so don’t miss an opportunity to jot one down or snap a pic.