18 Idea Generation Techniques That Don't Include Brainstorming

Updated June 24, 2022

Idea generation techniques can be helpful in many problem-solving, product development or innovation-based work processes. A common form of idea generation is brainstorming. While brainstorming is a good method for listing various solutions to problems or beginning the creative process, you can consider using other techniques in some situations. In this article, we discuss various idea generation techniques besides brainstorming and why you could use them to help you think in innovative ways.

What are idea generation techniques?

Idea generation techniques are activities and approaches that can help people process and analyze their thoughts in order to think of new inventions, solutions or designs. You can use these techniques in both individual and group settings. These techniques may also involve tools like computers, whiteboards or paper to help you compile your thoughts. Some methods require group discussions, which you can choose to do aloud or through written communication.

Related: 25 Brainstorming Techniques for Problem-Solving and Planning

Why use idea generation techniques?

These techniques are beneficial for individuals and teams to generate new designs or make progress on projects. They can help promote creative thought in a simple and easy-to-understand format. Idea generation techniques can produce a wide variety of diverse ideas that can assist you in overcoming creative blocks. Using these techniques can also ensure that you or your team considers all different ideas carefully before the initiation of a project or production.

Related: 18 Creativity Exercises To Improve Creative Thinking and Problem-Solving at Work

18 idea generation techniques besides brainstorming

Here's a list of 18 alternative brainstorming techniques:

1. Reverse brainstorming

While the process of brainstorming is the generation of ideas to identify problem-solving methods, reverse brainstorming starts with thinking about the causes of that problem. Focusing on the causes of the problem may sometimes be more efficient than focusing on the solution. By finding potential causes, you can work proactively to resolve or prevent the cause of the problem. Often, teams use reverse brainstorming to improve products and services.

2. Brainwriting

A brainwriting activity is typically most effective in a group setting. Start by writing a topic on a piece of paper. Then, pass the paper around the group so that everyone has a turn to write on it and contribute their ideas to the central topic or question. The ideas of one group member can inspire the ideas of another, or someone may choose to improve upon an existing one.

3. Brain netting

Brain netting involves the use of cloud-based documents or programs for groups to share and collaborate. This form of brainstorming can be quite interactive with the addition of links, videos and images to provide visual representations and context. Using an online program also works when working with a team either live or remotely, which could be beneficial for those collaborating within different time zones.

4. Forced relationships

The forced relationships method introduces two random and seemingly unrelated items and forces you to create a connection between them. This technique encourages innovative thinking in order to build those relationships and possibly develop a new product. You can conduct forced relationship activities in group settings or individually.

5. Role-storming

Role-storming is brainstorming with the added element of role-playing. To bring out new perspectives and different ideas, participants could imagine that they're in a different role in relation to the brainstorming goal. They could pretend they're a client or manager assessing the same goal and ask themselves what improvements to implement.

6. Storyboarding

Develop a storyboard by finding pictures, quotes and other visual information associated with the focus of your brainstorming. Then, you could arrange these items to create a narrative and add notes to help explain the progression of the ideas. Storyboarding can be a more interactive method when searching for physical items to add to the board. The physical aspect of seeking and building can allow your brain to process the visual information in front of you at a faster rate.

7. Five whys

This method often begins with a real or hypothetical problem that you could address with your team. You would ask them why a problem happens or is happening. After the initial round of responses and forming an answer, a facilitator asks again and again until the fifth time. The reason for asking the same question five times is to find deeper answers, as the first response is typically more shallow.

8. Six thinking hats

You can use this technique with groups of at least six people. Each participant represents a "thinking hat," or different thought focuses, such as benefits, emotions, facts, ideas, judgment and planning. With these mindsets, each person addresses the topic or problem from that standpoint.

9. S.C.A.M.P.E.R.

S.C.A.M.P.E.R. stands for substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate and reverse. This acronym is essentially a question checklist to prompt your ideas. It asks you to consider factors like substituting a variable for another, combining one with another or adapting a variable to a different context. This method helps you think critically and consider creative approaches from several angles.

Related: 10 Ideation Techniques for Problem-Solving

10. S.W.O.T. analysis

S.W.O.T. is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You can usually use this method individually or with a team to assess the worth of proposed projects. You could ask what the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are for a particular project to help decide if you should proceed with it.

11. Group sketching

In this method, each group member passes around a piece of paper to sketch something related to a central concept or related to another sketch on the paper. Once the entire group has completed sketching, discuss the images and form connections between them. Visually thinking and creating can give a form to the group's ideas in a way that they can then interpret a plan or design.

Related: 6 Steps Your Team Can Take for an Effective Brainstorming Process

12. Word banking

Word banking is similar to other word association activities but conducted on a larger scale with the volume of words and phrases involved. While word association is relating one word to another, you can form bigger word sets with word banking. You can associate more than one word with another and group those words to identify patterns and connections. This method can help solidify abstract ideas by finding a common objective or purpose that can initiate the beginning of a project.

13. Wishing

This method asks for participants to wish for solutions to a given problem. These solutions can be impractical or unattainable, but your team can still discuss potential ways to make them happen. You could develop the ultimate solution to the problem by analyzing what aspects of each wish they can use or integrate into the actual solution.

14. Gap filling

Gap filling begins with a statement of your starting point with a project or problem. Then, you'd state your final goal and begin thinking of what you can do to fill the gap between the start and endpoints. Initial responses are often more general, but through multiple processes of filling gaps, you can identify specific resolutions.

15. Rapid ideation

With this technique, ask your group to write ideas individually within a time constraint. They would all write as many ideas as possible on their own pieces of paper. Once the time is over, they can share their ideas aloud or the group leader can collect them. When reviewing the responses, there may be some common ideas between the group that can provide insight into ideas that they can develop further.

16. Trigger storming

Trigger storming provides more specific prompts or "triggers" for a group to discuss. These prompts can be open-ended sentences for the group to finish or evocative or abstract statements that can inspire or provoke new thoughts. You can do this method aloud or on paper.

17. "What if"

The "what if" method introduces scenarios to encourage creative thinking. When facing a problem, you could reframe it using "what if" questions to analyze the problem from a different perspective. Some examples of these questions could be:

  • "What if we gave this problem to an artist rather than an engineer to solve?"

  • "What if this problem happened at the end of the fiscal year?"

18. Zero draft

Writers often use zero drafting as a variation of freewriting. Starting with a topic, you'd write everything you know about it, what you want or need to know and why the topic is important. You could then add other ideas that come to mind while writing. This method can also be beneficial for those with writer's block in order to develop thoughts freely, but with a few prompts to guide them.

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