7 ways to brainstorm like a creative pro

Kickstart your projects with Fred Deakin's favourite techniques for getting the creative juices flowing.

Design students at intensive two-week creative workshop Modual were today tasked with starting to develop a raft of ideas for projects to make positive social change in the world.

To kickstart the brainstorming process, creative veteran and current chair of Interactive Digital Arts at University of the Arts London, Fred Deakin took to the stage (and the webcam, for teams dialling in virtually) to share his favourite techniques for getting the creative juices flowing.

Throughout the workshop we'll be sharing tips, tricks and tactics from the workshop. If you missed it, here's what happened on day one and day two.

Read on for seven ways to brainstorm like a pro… 

01. Keep a collective open mind

Student collaboratively brainstorming through digital and physical means, thanks to Fuze collaborative technology

The biggest challenge of brainstorming in a team is keeping a collective open mind. Many of us self-censor our thoughts for fear of looking stupid in front of our peers.

Suspending cynicism for each others ideas (temporarily, at least) is essential to foster enough creative momentum to hit on some really interesting ideas.

02. First go for volume, not quality

In the early stages of a group creative process, it's important not worry about quality of ideas but rather go for volume.

03. Don't pass judgement immediately

For a sharp creative mind, it can be difficult not to pass immediate judgement on an idea that comes out a teammates mouth. This instinct to pick holes in the practicalities of a new-born concept, when allowed at the table, can be fatal to the creative energy.

Building on ideas, rather than breaking them down, no matter how daft they are, can be a powerful way to ramp up  that collective creative magic.

04. Warm up with 'Yes! And…'

Fred Deakin demonstrating some of his brainstorming tips at Somerset House

One simple exercise can help your group overcome this challenge and get the juices flowing. We call it 'Yes! And'. In your team, elect one person to start by announcing an idea for something  fun to do as a group – 'Let's go to the beach' could be an example.

Then, move round the group in a circle with each team member building on the plan by following with 'Yes! And…" followed by an extension to the idea – 'lets have a picnic in the sea' for example.

Continue round and round the group for 2 minutes until the initial plan has morphed into something weird and wonderful.

05. Put practice into action

By forcing ourselves to respond positively to an idea and then build on it, we can quickly get in to the optimum mindset for brainstorming. Use this exercise as a warmup before you begin an ideation session and watch how much more positive and care free your team work becomes.

Try to maintain the same practice of responding with positivity and building on the ideas further and you'll be amazed how many ideas you can come up with.

06. Put on Edward de Bono's Thinking Hat

Day 03: Thinking Hats doodle by Priscilla Saggesse

When you've been through your nonjudgmental brainstorming and have a whole host of ideas, the time then comes to develop the ideas and start balancing positivity with your other thoughts and feelings.

One really useful way to analyse and build on the ideas further is to use the colourful 'thinking hats' technique developed by renowned psychologist Edward de Bono.

The technique helps the team take each idea in turn and collectively explore it with four different mindsets, represented by a different colour 'hat'. De Bono originally described six different hats and mindsets, but beginners can simplify by sticking to just four.

07.  Start with the virtues of the idea

First, put on your 'yellow hats' representing optimism and discuss the virtues of the idea. Then, switch to the 'black hat' and discuss the possible downfalls or challenges of the idea.

Third, take up the 'red hat' to share your emotions, feelings ad hunches about the idea without having to explain yourself. Finally, start imagining the possibilities that could emerge from the concept by donning the 'green hat' – feel free to think big and laterally here, taking inspiration from the original idea.

Repeat this process for all your ideas and by the end of the process you should be in a good place to make some decisions about which ideas are worth pursuing further.

Live from the workshop

60 UAL students + 12 groups + 2,400 seconds = 640 epic ideas

Today, UAL student teams have been tying these techniques out for themselves with Fred Deakin. In a rapid 40 minutes, 60 students generated an impressive 640 unique ideas – some weird and many wonderful – that were then given the coloured hats treatment!

Deakin and the Modual team have been visualising some of the most interesting ideas from the student work and sharing on social media

There was a lot of love in the room for the Thinking Hats process with students doodling some artistic impressions of the technique after hours!

Keep up with the action

Day 03: Thinking Hats doodle by Bel Aguas

Fred Deakin's workshop will be running from 5-15th of January. Stay tuned for more tips and tricks on raising your creative game in 2016.

To hear more about the workshop and to see how students from UAL are progressing with improving their collaboration skills, check out the Modual: 2016 workshop homepageTwitter and Instagram.

If you'd like to hear more of the workshop content and make use of a video course presented by Fred, sign up for the free content on the workshop's site.

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