Brainstorming Techniques – Using Numbers, SCAMPER, & Starburst to Create Ideas

Let’s brainstorm for a minute. Write down every brainstorm method you know. How many come to mind? More importantly, how many of them do you actually use?

Most of us brainstorm the same way, every time. Brainstorming has become so commonplace that it’s easy to fall into this habit. However, there are at least nine different ways to get out of that rut. Over the next few weeks we will show you these approaches, a few at a time. We encourage you to pick one and give it a shot the next time your group gets together to brainstorm.

Trying something new immediately surprises your team and pushes them out of their typical thinking. As you work the new brainstorming model, you’ll see how a new or different approach will generate more creativity, a wider variety of ideas and better solutions to your company’s problems.

In this blog post, we’re starting with three creative brainstorming methods based on concepts involving numbers, letters and shapes. Be sure to check back to the Cardsmith blog because we’ll be following up with six other approaches over the next few weeks.

Brainstorming by the Numbers: 6-3-5

In this brainstorming process, it’s ideal to have six participants. If your team is larger, just break up into groups of six. You can also do it with fewer people; it will work just the same.

First, define the problem you want to address. Then start each person with a blank piece of paper. On it, they are to write three solutions to the problem within five minutes’ time. Then, they hand the paper off to the next person clockwise around the table or room.

The next person expands on the three ideas written on that piece of paper. After five minutes, pass the paper and continue the process. After half an hour of doing this, the paper will return to the person who initiated it.

The beauty of this approach is that it produces 108 new ideas generated by only six people! Not only do you get a lot of thoughts on paper in a short amount of time, but you also provide a space in which quieter team members can share their ideas without having to physically speak up. Here, everyone gets a voice—more than once.

If your team is remote, you can do a virtual “pass” by creating a Cardsmith Grid Board with one column per person. For the first step, have each person create 3 Idea Cards in the Column with their name.  You could ask people to use the Hide/Show Column feature to have them show and focus on only the column they are currently working on expanding.

Spell it Out: SCAMPER Method

Use the acronym SCAMPER to prompt team members into creative thinking. This is especially effective if you’ve already come up with several solutions to a problem or different ways of conducting a process. For each letter, ask team members to come up with the following:

Substitute: Look for ways to replace current services, products or solutions.

Combine: Take two ideas or processes and combine them into one idea.

Adapt: How can you change current solutions or processes to make them better?

Modify: Here you’re looking to advance your products or services by making modifications that offer more capabilities.

Put to Another Use: Look for ways current processes or products could be fused into existing ones.

Eliminate: Ask participants what is currently taking place (or what element is part of a product) that is unnecessary or redundant. Generating these ideas can help you streamline processes and save money on things that are unnecessary.

Reverse: Could your processes be reversed so that something that happens later in production actually takes place as an earlier step? Sometimes changing the order of your steps can streamline your process.

New Ideas Take Shape: Starbursting

This approach makes use of a visual aid, which takes the shape of a star.

Start out by drawing that star with six points. You can do this on a whiteboard if your team is all in one room, or share it with your group via Cardsmith. On each point of the star, write the words: who, what, when, where, why, how.

In the center of the star, write your question or problem. Then, use each of these words to kickstart discussion about that aspect of your brainstorming topic.

This method works well when you need to make sure you address every aspect of the problem or question. It also helps your team focus on the aspects that are most important when addressing the issue at hand. Also, much like the other methods we mentioned in this post, Starbursting can help you generate a good number of solutions around a single problem.

starbursting board example for brainstorming ideas

Next time we will look at several brainstorming methods that involve changing your point of view—individually or as a group—and thus generating more unique and creative ideas.

« »