Do brainstorming sessions stress you out? Does the command to ‘just write down everything that comes into your head for the next five minutes’ short-circuit your brain, leaving you unable to conceive of any idea except perhaps having a medical emergency before it’s your turn to read your list to the group?
That’s way too much drama and anxiety to have to fit into your workday. Here’s a simple hack you can use to completely eliminate brainstorming performance anxiety from your life. It’ll take you twenty minutes a week, and will enrich your creative abilities at work, on any independent projects you’ve got going, and even in your personal life.
Gear Up Before the Game Starts: Understanding Brainstorming
Whether you’re playing DnD or Call of Duty, it’s essential your character is sufficiently armed to survive the coming adventure. You can play the game without ammo, but it’s not going to go well.
Brainstorming works the same way. Ideas are the ammo you need to succeed well in the environment. Gear up before you get started, and you’re going to do better and last longer.
During brainstorming sessions, you’re being asked for ideas. You’re not being asked to conceive of those ideas spontaneously in the moment, nor is it necessary for these ideas to be unique to you. You really only need to share things you’ve seen, heard, or thought previously in your life.
Simplify your life and be prepared for every brainstorming meeting by collecting good ideas on an ongoing basis. If you capture one good idea a day for a month, you’ll have 30 things you could potentially say during that brainstorming session. Don’t rely on your memory to do this for you. Instead, use your favorite tech to create a file you can add to easily.
Then, before your next brainstorming session, take some time to review the ideas you’ve collected. Not every idea is going to be immediately relevant to whatever your organization’s goals might be, but every idea does demonstrate your ability to bring something fresh and new to the conversation. With a little prep, brainstorming sessions can help cement your reputation as a creative thinker.
Building Your Idea Inventory
One simple way to build your idea inventory is to set up an email to yourself every day, which asks: What good idea did you see today? Commit to answering yourself. It shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. Add links that you might want to reference later, hit reply, and that’s it for the day.
Now the question is: where will you find good ideas? The answer is everywhere you look for them. It may be seeing the cashier at the corner store defuse an angry customer. It may be a stuffed animal that converts into a backpack. It may be something that’s happening in your industry, or something totally outside of your field entirely. You may find good ideas studying history, geeking out about the future, playing games, zoning out, or having fun with the kids.
When you encounter the good idea, make a mental note of it. Then when it’s time to handle your email, you’ll have something to say. Over the course of time, you’ll find yourself noticing more and more good ideas. That’s the nature of the creative practice – once you’re more comfortable in your ability to spot good ideas, you can become more selective with which ones you choose to capture. But right now, if you’re in a point where you’re stressed out about brainstorming, just focus on finding one each day – and you’ll never, ever have nothing to say.
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