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24 Best Brainstorm Exercises [Creative & Lateral Thinking]

24 Best Brainstorm Exercises [Creative & Lateral Thinking]

In this article, you will learn how to hold a brainstorming session. You will find all the best brainstorm techniques here, with Edward de Bono’s Thinking Hats as #1 technique. How do you put these models into practice? Let’s apply all these creativity lessons on lateral thinking. The 24 working methods / exercises in this article can be applied in business, healthcare and education, for example. Read along…

Best brainstorm techniques: in this article you will find 24 working methods for lateral thinking

In this article you will find exercises and examples to be able to think more creatively (lateral thinking), which is useful for brainstorming. You will also learn the three phases that Edward de Bono designed for during this brainstorming process.

The thinking hats are the most striking exercise from the brainstorming session

Edward de Bono has designed a lot of techniques for your brainstorming sessions. The colored thinking hats are the best known. That technique is therefore definitely discussed later in the article, but let’s start at the beginning.

Checklist: bring these things with you for the brainstorming session

  • Flipover + markers + sticky notes.
  • Informal setting (canteen + walking route) (= ‘legs on the table’).
  • Invite a ‘fresh viewer’. Give two roles to this guest: fresh viewer, and Creativity Manager.
  • During the brainstorming session, vary between sitting and standing.
  • Provide everyone with paper for brainwriting.
  • Chocolate for energy to be able to think actively.

The rules of creative brainstorming according to De Bono

 The Thinking Hats Of Edward De Bono

Let the spectator read the following rules:

  • All ideas are good, so no killers / criticisms: postpone judgments until after the exercises! Be the angel’s advocate.
  • Dare to go for the unknown. Take risks, have guts / extreme ideas and dare to go all out.
  • Go for quantity, not quality.
  • Let go, a chaotic vibe is allowed.
  • Use your intuition. That’s the first thing that comes to mind.
  • Say anything, no matter how ridiculous.
  • With every answer we can think: what is positive about it?
  • Complement each other. For example, by starting your sentence like this:
    yes, and
    yes, is
    yes, is not
  • If you’re stuck, you may want to start thinking reversal: think the opposite (and say it too). For example: What do we have to do to get more customers? That becomes: What do we have to do to chase away as many customers as possible?
  • Fractionate: take apart and rebuild like Lego.
  • Combine the ideas that will arise during this brainstorming session. You can forcefully combine regularly and use its associations and characteristics.

Preparation round – Icebreaker and a creativity preframe

Welcome everyone and do an icebreaker. For example: introduce yourself using a metaphor.

Then you awaken a mood of creativity. You can do this, for example, by telling a metaphorical story and / or by anchoring creativity : When were you creative? (Anchor). Know that you … Now experience that your … creativity is increased ….

Other ways to achieve this include creating a chain story or solving lateral riddles.

Why get the man from the 10th floor to go with the stairs to the 15th except on rainy days? Answer: it was a dwarf. He couldn’t press higher than 10, but he could with his umbrella. The natural assumption is that he himself is normal and that the problem lay in his behavior.

Round 1 – Problem analysis

Identify the problem with the following questions

You can ask the following questions during the problem analysis:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Ask the question 4 times: ‘why’

Map the obstacles

Hang three sheets.

  • Place the status quo on the left sheet.
  • Place what you want to achieve on the right sheet.
  • Place the obstacles on the middle sheet.
  • Which obstacles will you solve, which ones will you park?

Obstacles can be combined with a  metaphor . For example a (sea) trip. What is the current sea, vessel, crew, etc. What does the desired sea, vessel, etc. look like? What kinds of obstacles are there at sea? What kinds of possible travel plans are possible?

Determine the urgency

What is the main problem?

Create new perspectives for the problem definition

Try to use as many synonyms as possible to describe the problem in as many ways as possible. Put the problem statement through Google Translate to another language and then translate it back to your own language with Google Translate. Does this create new perspectives for the problem?

Round 2 – Broadening ideas (quantity)

Hand out paper and markers. Say it is for writing down all your ideas, such as when to wait your turn. This is called brainwriting.

Exercise 1 – Exercise-free brainstorming

To begin with, we’re just going to brainstorm freely without any ‘exercise’ associated with it.

Exercise 2 – Use the thinking hats method

Always look at the problem with a different color thinking hat. You put on the thinking hat, as it were, and you change into a completely different person. Use the video below to see what each thinking hat stands for.

Exercise 3 – Biomimicry (learning from nature)

  1. Formulate the problem.
  2. Name some animals that are also affected by this problem.
  3. Investigate how these animals solve the problem.
  4. Translate these solutions from nature into the original problem.

Example: the ant model can solve congestion problems.

Exercise 4 – The Chain Association technique in flower form

Do this chain association by making ‘flower associations’. Draw a flower with all petals. Write a word on each piece of paper. Give each leaf again a number of adjacent leaves and always write an association on them.

Variations that you can add at some point:

  • A word that has become far away in the chain of association should be used for solutions to the problem.
  • You have to use several words that have become far away to name five similarities between them. Use those agreements for new ideas.

Exercise 5 – Negative brainstorming

Example and instructions:

  1. The question for help is: How do I ensure that more children use the bicycle to school, instead of the car?
  2. Mirror the question for help: How can we ensure that no child comes to school by bicycle anymore?
  3. Possible answers for the mirrored request for help: Remove the bicycle shed, sprinkle with needles and thumbtacks, puncture all tires, do not give a bonus if they come by bicycle …
  4. Now mirror the solutions from step 3. Now you get the desired solution directions for the original request for help: provide fine cycling facilities, let the caretaker also act as a bicycle repairman, give the children an extra reward for cycling …

More examples:

  • Environmental issues: how could we get rid of our fresh air as quickly as possible?
  • Zoo: suppose the visitors should be housed …
  • Retail: what should we do to drive away as many customers as possible?

Exercise 6 – Seeing through a presupposition

A special exercise, but do not worry: after the explanation of the steps there is an example immediately.

  1. What is the request for help?
  2. Find important terms (words) associated with the request for help and name its characteristics.
  3. Think about what people automatically assume with those words and write them down. These are presuppositions.
  4. Find a new idea for each premise or remove the premise completely.
  5. Now think of ideas that suddenly become possible without those presuppositions.

Example: If the request for help had been to design a new refrigerator, you would look at the features first. A refrigerator has shelves! Now you can see through, change, or eliminate this premise. For example, you can instruct yourself that your new refrigerator should have no shelves at all. Now you suddenly come up with new ideas and designs, such as a cool drawer or cool sofa.

More examples:

  • Why is the original of van Gogh’s Sunflowers more expensive than a full-size copy?
  • Why do fairytales end with ‘they lived happily ever after’?
  • Why is a football (tennis ball, basketball, etc.) spherical?

Exercise 7 – Scamper Method

Use the following mindsets:

  • S ubstitute: What will happen if you switch parts, fabrics, materials and people?
  • C ombine: Could you combine something with other objects or services?
  • A dapt: ​​Can other objects or services adapt so that they can be added to your request for help?
  • M odify: Can you make the object or the request for help bigger, adapt it or make it smaller?
  • P ut to another purpose: Can the same object or idea be used in a completely different context or market?
  • E liminate: Can you eliminate parts so that it becomes stylized and returns to core and basic function?
  • R everse: Could you turn it around completely or could you do something with the order?

Exercise 8 – The dictionary

Take any page and word from the dictionary. Someone says the page and the other the location of the word. For example: page 20, line 10, word 5 of any book. The chosen word must be a noun. Include it in the flower association (exercise 4).

Exercise 9 – Moving the brainwriting sheets through

Scroll the sheets to another person and get inspired by what’s already there to supplement it.

Exercise 10 – Associate with images

Associate with images. Use the following sources for this:

Exercise 11 – Analogy

Use a self-invented analogy, for example for the problem definition: how do we recruit new new customers: how does a religion / non-profit organization recruit?

Exercise 12 – Comic Hero

  1. Choose a comic book hero. Draw it.
  2. Write the characteristics of this comic book hero to him or her.
  3. Ask yourself how the comic book hero would deal with the problem.
  4. Translate the ideas of the comic book hero into solutions for the request for help that you had.

Exercise 13 – Downchunking + morphology

For this technique you become more and more concrete so that you get all kinds of new ideas.

Suppose the problem is: come up with an improved version of a refrigerator.

Then you downchunking to the properties of a refrigerator: the material, the shape, the shelves, the light and the motor. Then you also do downchunking for, for example: planks. A shelf can be transparent or solid. It can be thin or thick. Here you can make various new combinations. For example, you can design a transparent fridge! Or a refrigerator with ultra-thin shelves so that there is more space.

Exercise 14 – Imitation

  1. Think about the most important words from the request for help.
  2. Generate synonyms of those most important words.
  3. Do research in various information sources, for example by looking on the internet.
  4. Now you can combine your found information with the initial request for help so that you can come up with new ideas.

Exercise 15 – Grab some market research

Dive into some market research. Look at, among other things, performances, suggestions and orders from end users.

Exercise 16 – Purge

Write down as many ideas as possible for 2 minutes. Jointly and / or individually.

Exercise 17 – Consult the neighbors

Consult someone who is nearby or approach a wild stranger. Do not do this too heavily, but ask how he experiences this problem. Make it a spontaneous conversation.

Exercise 18 – Invent new words

Think of a new word, plus explain how the new word solves your problem.
Then change 1 letter to explain the word + idea. “Oh, you mean …”

Exercise 19 Combine the thinking hats with a different technique

Combine the thinking hats (exercise 2) with another technique for an extra powerful creativity effect.

Exercise 20-24

  • Which fairy tale has to do with our problem?
  • Now let’s all generate ideas that start with a B.
  • Give different meaning to abbreviations that appear in the problem.
  • Take a trip with the whole team to an irrelevant location, such as exhibitions or a toy store.
  • Use the first red object you see and use it in your solution.

Round 3 – Converge

 The Thinking Hats Of Edward De Bono

In this round we go from quantity to quality: focus and select on feasibility and feasibility. So we make a shortlist of ideas. By the way, do you have a lot of irrelevant ideas? Maybe not. Use parts / concepts / properties of an irrelevant idea. Key words in this round are therefore: quality, choice, ordering and logic.

All ideas from round 2 are on the wall. Now the group can put stickers on the different ideas. This way you can see which ideas have the most stickers. You can also work with colored stickers: red, orange and green for bad ideas, doubts and good ideas respectively.

You can then place the ideas with more than 3 stickers in a matrix.

You can also evaluate the ideas based on the factors of the book ‘Made To Stick’:

  • Simplicity:  What is the essence? What’s the gist?
  • Unexpectedness: What is surprising and unexpected? That will certainly make you stand out!
  • Concreteness:  Abstract ideas are less useful to people. Moreover, they quickly forget abstract ideas.
  • Credibility:  Can you get someone in high authority to substantiate the idea? Or can you find facts for it?
  • Emotions:  Which ideas appeal to emotions, identity and self-realization?
  • Story factor: Which idea can be linked to a beautiful story, so that people are inspired by it?

Get the thinking hats here too.

Finally, purchase the books of Edward de Bono (tip!)

Edward de Bono’s books provide you with the tools to become a fully creative person. Lateral thinking can become a habit for you in this way.

This is the end of the brainstorming session

You have now successfully led a brainstorming session according to the method of Edward de Bono, including the thinking hats and all steps for successfully completing such a session.

About The Author


Hello! Thanks for reading these articles. My intention is to make happiness as simple and clear as posssible. By the way, excuse my English. I am not a native English speaker since I live in Amsterdam. Much appreciated if you use the comments to make suggestions on my grammar. See ya in another blogpost!

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