Methods for brainstorming about projects are often hard to implement. Some of them are so needlessly complex that it’s difficult to be creative and free-form with your thinking. Mind-maps (and mind-mapping software like NovaMind and Inspiration) can be useful, but they take some getting used to, and often work best when several people are involved. Others, like the D*I*Y Planner Brainstorming template (basically, an empty grid for note-taking and doodling) are too free-form, and the lack of structure and prompts may do little to help bust your creative blocks.
I’ve decided to take a leaf from Roger van Oech’s book Whack on the Side of the Head, a great book for sparking many types of creativity — I’ve cherished mine for nearly 20 years. He wrote:
Much of our educational system has taught us to look for the one right answer. This approach is fine for some situations, but many of us have a tendancy to stop looking for alternative right answers after the first one has been found. This is unfortunate because often it’s the second, or third, or tenth right answer which is what we need to solve a problem in an innovative way.
He goes on to say that creative genius tends to lurk in the least obvious places, and it’s a shame that we always stop at the first thing that comes to mind, since that only serves to stiffle our imaginations. So what can I do, I pondered, that would force me to think of alternatives? I have a few ideas in development, but I’d like to start by introducing a draft for a new form, which I’m calling (at least temporarily) Crossroads (sorry, 5.5×8.5 only for now). Click on the form at right to download the 2-page PDF file.
So how do you use it?
- First, consider the issue at hand, and summarise this for the Title. The shorter the better. For example, “Publicise technology workshops for volunteers,” “Start club for learning Japanese,” “Fund-raising for Dialysis Machine,” “Start a fitness consultancy,” or “Write department proposal for Q3.”
- The Destination is the objective to keep in mind, and should take into account what would make this a succesful venture. Be succinct.
- In each of the boxes, from 1 to 4, write down a possible path to take. Force yourself to think of four completely different approaches. If you have a lot of ideas, don’t stop there: use another form or a piece of note paper. (Don’t worry about the checkbox items for now.) For example, ideas for publicising a technology workshop might be:
- Newspaper/radio/TV ads
- Fax posters/flyers to volunteer clubs
- Ask service clubs to mention in meetings
- Get churches involved
- In each box, think of a few Checkbox items — essentially actions that would help further develop that path. For example, under “Get churches involved”, you might put:
- Short description of workshop for minister
- Ask for mention after sermon
- Check out clubs, find leaders
- Elderly “wanna-learns”- how?
- Modified curriculum/approach
- Parish newsletters
- Grandparent-teen teams
- Look down through your paths. What makes more sense, and what might provide best results per effort required? Decide upon which actions you want to pursue, move them to your Next Actions or Weekly Planning lists. You can either check off the ones you’ve moved, or check off the ones completed (depending on what makes most sense to your system). By the way, nothing is saying that you have to stick to just one box: mix and match. this is for brainstorming, not restricting you.
- When the destination has been achieved (or not, or side-tracked), conduct a mini-review (the Looking Back). I’d suggest –at least when getting started– that you note four things you could have done more effectively, or the four things that worked best. Attach regular note paper if you need the space. A personal review, however short, is not only a good way to keep things in perspective and learn about oneself, but it also helps push creative solutions to the next level.
As I said, this is an early draft of the form, and I would really love to get some feedback. Any takers, please leave a comment below or send me an email (address is at the bottom of the menu at right).