In the book "Big Magic," Elizabeth Gilbert notes that effective brainstorming is all about practice: “It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.” Whether you’re a brainstorming pro or you’re looking for idea generation techniques for the very first time, learning new ways to come up with creative concepts will keep your work fresh and innovative.
Keep reading to learn how to generate new ideas by yourself, with a team, and even under tight deadlines.
10 idea generation techniques that don't suck
Combine one or more of these idea generation techniques by using some on your own then bringing in opinions from other team members. Or, hold a project kickoff meeting that features some rapid fire versions to supercharge everyone’s creativity right out the gate.
- The essay method
Follow the lead of award-winning journalists with this basic essay writing technique. List who, what, where, when, why, and how. Define who this project is for, what the project is, where it will be sent or published, why it’s important, and how you’ll complete it.
- Find the whys
Why this project and why right now? Why does the client care? Why does the audience care? Why do you care? Answer these questions to get a better understanding of what matters most.
- Social listening
Start social listening online with tools such as Brand24 and Agorapulse to discover what your target audience is most interested in.
- Brain dump
Start with a blank page. Write your goal or topic at the top. Then put every single thought, idea, and resource you have for this goal or topic down underneath it until you can’t think of any more. Keep this sheet handy for when you inevitably produce great ideas later in the day or week.
- SWOT analysis
Write down your goal then create a grid with four squares, labeling each as “Strengths,” “Weaknesses,” “Opportunities,” and “Threats.” List as many items as you can think of in each box. Look for the positive outcomes and weigh them against the negative ones before continuing on.
- Mind map/Cluster/Spiderweb method
Put your main idea or project title in the middle of a document. Circle it, then draw lines connecting the center to new ideas. For example, write “social media campaign” in the center, circle it, and draw lines connecting it to the words “Facebook”, “Instagram”, and “TikTok”. Then, branch out further by adding new circles and spokes to ideas for subcategories.
- The toddler method
Ask your team why they chose each project goal. When they answer, ask them why. Then, ask them why again. Keep going until they run out of answers or gain new insight.
- Shared doc
Share a blank document with the entire team inside your marketing project management software. Give them instructions on what you want them to contribute and how long they have to do it (a week should be enough). Have everyone add at least three ideas, no matter how “bad” they think they might be.
Putting yourself in the shoes of your client or audience is the best idea generation technique for anyone stuck in a rut. Think about what other people want to see, what they would enjoy, and what would most benefit them.
Put out a poll on social media asking your audience what they like best. Send an email survey to get their thoughts on your chosen topic. Ask your client’s best customers what they love about your client’s product or service and what makes them stay long term.
How to create an idea generation process that works
Start a new project in Wrike then define the timeline, teams, and budget. Create an idea generation workflow and add idea generation techniques as tasks. Assign each task to one or more team members. Review the process afterward, making changes where necessary. Then, save your idea generation process as a template for future projects.
Be sure to keep some go-to resources for inspiration on hand — such as a competing agency’s portfolio or a shared Pinterest board of everyone’s favorite marketing ideas from real brands. Don’t be shy about it either — some of the world’s most creative innovators stole their biggest ideas.
How to generate creative ideas when you're up against a deadline
Do these as soon as you feel stuck:
- Eliminate all distractions. Cancel unrelated meetings, put your phone on silent mode, and set up an email vacation responder so everyone knows that, unless they’re contacting you about this project, they’ll have to patiently wait. Also, reschedule other tasks to the days or weeks after your deadline so you don’t have to worry about them.
- Take a meditation break. Stress has a negative effect on attention span and productivity. Take time to relax before jumping right in so you can stay on task longer once you get started.
- Collaborate with others. Bounce ideas off one another in person or right within your creative project management platform. Keep running lists of ideas and encourage contributions with a “no wrong answers” policy to get (and stay) in the flow.
Why idea generation is key to marketing agencies
"Every job, big or small should be given the same energy,” says Martin Widdowfield, the creative director at Robot Food. “Complacency is the killer of good creative and spreads like wildfire if left to do so."
For marketing agencies, creativity is what clients want to buy from you. Own your team’s creative process with queued up idea generation techniques, a brainstorming workflow, and the right collaborative tools.
Idea generation tools you must own
All marketing agencies should own idea generation tools that allow teams to communicate and swap ideas all in one highly accessible space — no matter where they are in the world. Shared documents are popular, as are project management tools like Wrike that allow users to store creative assets, loop in collaborators with easy @mentions, and streamline idea approval. Also, consider using a brainstorming app like Bubbl.us or Coggle to create digital mind maps.
What to do when idea generation techniques aren’t working
We all hit creative blocks from time to time. Decrease the frequency and severity of them by developing healthy habits. Prioritize sleep, exercise, and nutritious foods so your brain can be at its best. Meditation and a good work-life balance are also helpful.
In the short term, start by listing what you think is blocking your creativity. Afterward, systematically analyze each item to see if it’s even worth worrying about. For example, you might feel that fear of failure is getting in your way. Here’s what to do:
- First, write down the consequences of every bad outcome you can imagine.
- Then, go through your list and circle which bad outcome you have experienced before.
- Reflect on what happened, how you reacted, and what you would have done differently.
- For any uncircled items, imagine similar scenarios you have experienced in the past.
Ultimately you’ll come to the conclusion that even the worst case scenarios aren’t that bad, so there’s nothing really holding you back. Feel confident knowing that a) you’ve survived everything that’s ever happened to you so far and b) there are solutions to every obstacle.
If you’re really stuck or don’t fully know what’s holding you back, complete the following self-care tasks:
- Drink a glass of water
- Take a 10-minute screen break
- Lightly stretch
- Take any medications or supplements you haven’t had yet today
- Go outside if you can
- Have a snack
- Take a quick shower or brush your teeth
These small distractions help lighten the load your subconscious mind is carrying as it constantly monitors your physical needs. With these out of the way, there will be more free space in your brain to focus on tasks that are not essential for survival.
Conquer idea generation in marketing
Now that you have the right techniques, tips and tricks down, it’s time to solidify your own personal creativity workflow and toolkit. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Done is better than good,” which is why a project management solution like Wrike is so vital to the idea generation process.
Use Wrike to assign idea generation techniques as tasks, set visual deadlines for brainstorming, and collaborate with your entire team — all in one place. Get the creative juices flowing with our two-week free trial.