Creative Bliss: 6 Brainstorming Techniques

The next time you get stuck in a brainstorming session, give these tips from Alex Osborn, a pioneer teacher of creativity, a whirl. For these creativity exercises, we’ll use a brainstorm about annual reports as an example.


SUBSTITUTE. Substitution enables you to develop alternative ideas for things that already exist. Ask questions such as: Can we substitute something else for an annual report or one of its parts?  What’s another approach we could take to an annual report? Can we change the rules? Can we use other materials or a different process in our solution?

COMBINE. Creative thinking often involves combining previously unrelated subjects and creating something new. Ask questions such as: What different ideas about annual reports can be combined? Can we combine the purpose of an annual report with something else? How about a combination in packaging? Can the package be combined with the form? What can be combined to multiply the possible uses of an annual report? Can we provide an assortment, ensemble or variety?

ADAPT.One of the paradoxes of creativity is that in order to think of an original concept, we must first familiarize ourselves with the ideas of others. Ask questions such as: What else is like an annual report? Does that other thing suggest any new ideas about how to approach an annual report? Does the past offer a parallel we could use? What has worked before? Is there a similar format we could mimic to create a different kind of annual report? What have others done? What have the experts done? What different or unusual contexts (i.e., historical or future) can we put our client in? What ideas can we adapt from the worlds of sports, television, books, politics, movies or religion?

Check 30 Days to Creative Bliss for more doses of design inspiration and creativity exercises.

Brainstorming Toolbox

MAGNIFY. An easy way to create a new idea is to take a subject and add something to it. Ask questions such as: What can be added to the annual report? greater frequency? extra features? Can we maximize existing strengths? What can be magnified, made larger or extended? What can add extra value? Can we make an annual report do more things? What can be duplicated? What’s missing that could be useful? How could we carry an annual report to the dramatic extreme?

MODIFY. Any aspect of any idea can be modified to further enhance that idea. Ask questions such as: What can we alter about the annual report to make it better? Can we change its meaning, name, color, form, shape? Can we give it a new twist? What doesn’t feel right about past reports? What can we do differently? Can we change the perspective? How would my art teacher design an annual report? My father? Our clients’ competition? da Vinci? Napoleon? Bill Gates? Michael Jordan?

REPURPOSE. A subject takes its meaning from the context in which you put it, so when you change the context, you explore other uses. Ask questions such as: In what other ways could an annual report be used? Are there new ways to use it, as is? Can we make it do more things? Can we find other benefits? Can we modify it in some way to fit a new use? What’s being wasted that can be put to use? Are there extensions or spin-offs we could explore?

3 thoughts on “Creative Bliss: 6 Brainstorming Techniques

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