Brainstorming Exercises for Generating GREAT Ideas

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By: Jen Arnold

The more ideas generated in brainstorming, the better your outcome will be. However, sometimes it can be difficult to think of more, unique ideas after the obvious have been said or when your energy level becomes low. When we, at Innovation Focus, facilitate an ideation session we strive to reach the most ideas possible. We do this by utilizing creativity and energizing exercises that stretch the mind, so you can think more deeply and stretch for new ideas.

A group of us from Innovation Focus just returned home after a week in Buffalo, NY at the Creative Problem Solving Institute’s (CPSI) 2015 conference. This conference is focused on training individuals on the creative problem solving process. Anyone, of any level of understanding of creativity can benefit from CPSI’s learning opportunities. We attended many workshops (and even led a couple too), where we learned more ways to help generate more, and deeper ideas.

Below is a sampling of some of creative exercises that were covered in the workshops I attended. I was happy to know that Innovation Focus already incorporates several of these simple, yet effective, techniques. We were also introduced to some helpful new tools we will happily incorporate into our sessions.

“Forced Connections” is an exercise that we frequently use during ideation. However, I found several new ways to do this. The main idea with this exercise is to choose a random object, describe it and/or say what you think of when you see this object and then make a connection back to your task. We like to have a stack of magazines, images, cards or even a box of random objects (like small toys, coins or pieces of fabric) on hand for inspiration. There are also kits you can purchase to help with this exercise – like story cubes and Whack Pack cards.

Innovation Focus sometimes does an activity similar to the one I learned called “Wall of Don’t”. This is where participants write down ideas that would NEVER work to solve the chosen task. Try to think of the worst possibility! The objective is to take these bad ideas and turn them around into something feasible, or even great.

“Group Doodle” was a new activity to me. This is where participants scribble and doodle on a large piece of paper on the wall. Every few seconds, doodlers switch places with someone and doodle over, or next to, someone else’s drawing; use of music is encouraged here. Then, write ideas inspired by the doodles on Post-It Notes and place them by the doodle that made you think of it.

Don’t forget about group energizers! I know, I know. Some of you just made an audible groan. However, keep in mind, when you reach the afternoon of the second day, (or the third day, or the fourth day…) participants’ energy will become very low. A two-minute group exercise can help wake people up and give them energy to gather more ideas for the duration of the afternoon. Any exercise where you stand up and do something else works to achieve this goal. You can simply gather everyone into a circle to shake their arms and stomp their feet or ask them to talk about something completely different from the task.

Try this next exercise when energy is low in your session or meeting: “Competitive Rock-Paper-Scissors”. Everyone gets into pairs and plays rock-paper-scissors (best out of 3). The loser of the pair becomes the winner’s biggest fan and follows him/her to the next person to play another round. The loser of that round (and their biggest fans) follows the winner of that round. The game goes on until there is only one winner left.

If you don’t already, I recommend that you have a list of some creativity exercises with you at all times. It always helps to have something to use when you are in a session or meeting to energize participants and help them reach for more ideas.

This is just a reminder and possible refresher of some creative activities you can do with your team to refresh their brains and push for more ideas. We would love to hear what works for you. If you have exercises that work well for you, please share them with us! You can e-mail us at We will share them for our next e-news!

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