In a recent article, Brainstorm Good Ideas Even When Your Mind Goes Dead, I wrote about one of the drawbacks of brainstorming alone, which is that you don’t get the benefit of the expertise and perspective of other people. When you’re working alone, you may find yourself suffering from cognitive inertia, which is a mental phenomenon that you probably experience as not being able to think “outside the box.”

Mentally creating other people to brainstorm with

In my previous article, I talked about some ways you can “create” other people to brainstorm with, so you can give yourself the benefit of the expertise and perspective of other people, and overcome cognitive inertia. Here are the three things I talked about:

1. Use characters from the movies (yes, really)

Think of one of your favorite movies, or a movie you’ve watched recently. Imagine how the main character in that movie would help you brainstorm.

2. Use people interested in some random subject

The next time you’re googling something, click the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. Investigate whatever page or site you’re sent to, and the kind of people who might be interested in it. (Alternatively, next time you’re at the library, a newsstand, or a bookstore, find a book or magazine about a subject you’re usually not interested in.)

3. Use people interested in some random hobby

Think of a hobby that one of your friends has. Imagine how someone who’s interested in that subject would help you.

Some ideas on how to do this

Here are some examples of imagining these people are helping you brainstorm.

1. The “crouching tiger, hidden dragon” approach to your cash-flow document

Let’s say you’re brainstorming on how to improve one of your business processes. There’s something you’ve been doing the same way for a long time, and you want to see if you can get the same results in less time. Maybe it’s preparing your cash flow document every week.

Suppose you watched “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” recently. So you think about Michelle Yeoh’s character, Yu Shu Lien. She’s a fighter and a businesswoman. She has a different area of expertise from you, the kind of person you don’t usually work with, right? So imagine that Yu Shu Lien is really there, brainstorming with you.

How would Yu Shu Lien suggest that you do your cash flow document differently? She might say, be calm, be single-minded of purpose, work creatively with all of the weapons you have at hand. Maybe, for you, that suggests doing some meditation or centering exercises before you start working on your cash flow document. Maybe that suggests making it simpler, that you could group together some line items that you really don’t need to track separately.

2. People who sew, and their ideas about new products and services for you

Or let’s say you’re brainstorming about new products and services you can offer. So you go to library, and you find a magazine about sewing. You look through it, and find an article about how to make dozens of different dresses from one pattern, just by adding a collar, or raising the hemline, or using a fabric made of silk.

How can this approach help you? Someone who uses this pattern to make two different dresses is using the same basic building blocks and process, while varying some details that are easy to change. Can you do the same for a product of yours? For example, you might have a seminar you offer to businesses in a certain industry. You want to offer the same seminar for service-oriented non-profits, but you know it will seem too “mercenary” for them. Can you change a few details of your seminar to align it with the passion that people at non-profits have for their mission?

3. Triathletes, and how you can help them

For this one, I’ll take myself as an example. I’m writing an article on how you can help yourself get through difficult conversations by imagining your Best Possible Outcome. (Imagining your Best Possible Outcome involves imagining yourself after you’ve had a difficult conversation and it’s gone the best it possibly could have gone. I’ll post that article when I finish it.) I’m a trainer, facilitator, and mediator in the IT and Web industries, so that’s who I’m targeting the article to.

But IT and Web people aren’t the only people who can benefit from using this technique. So I’m brainstorming on other people who might benefit. A colleague of mine, who’s recently started competing in triathlons, reminds me that she hates the swimming part the most. She thinks she’s a lousy swimmer; she uses the bicycling and running parts of races to make up for all the time she lost during the swimming part. Could imagining her Best Possible Outcome help her be a better swimmer? As a matter of fact, it could. Maybe I could write an article for a magazine on triathlons, or other sports.

Wrap up

So next time you’re brainstorming, and you feel like you’re getting into a mental rut, use this technique of getting the benefit of other people’s perspective and expertise. Come up with new ways to get clients, think of different strategies for marketing ourselves and your business, dream up new products and services you can offer, get ideas of new markets for the products and services you already offer, and generate better business processes for yourself.

Help yourself in every part of your work. And next time you’re brainstorming alone, jumpstart your mind and be inspired.

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