Problems vs. Solutions: brainstorm

Are you faced with a challenging situation and it seems like there are only a couple possible solutions?

Well, think again.

There are almost always more possible solutions than you can count on both hands, but we often stop after the most obvious ones. As a result, we deprive ourselves of the creative problem-solving that comes when we break out of established patterns of thinking.

It’s really this simple: People don’t brainstorm enough.

The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas, and throw the bad ones away”. —Linus Pauling

Brainstorm Rule of 20

To do what Pauling suggests, try the Rule of 20.

Here’s how it works. Sit down with a notepad and define your challenge or problem by posing it in the form of a query. Write it at the top of the page.

For instance:

  • How can I get 5 clients in the next 8 weeks?
  • How can I get over my fear of public speaking?
  • How can I expand my professional network?
  • How can I figure out what kind of career would be a better fit?
  • How can I find time to exercise every day when I’m so busy?
  • How can I pay off my credit card debt in the next 12 months?

After you’ve posed your query, commit to coming up with at least 20 ideas that answer your question. Let one idea spark the next. When you feel stuck, ask yourself, “What’s one more idea?”

I use the Rule of 20 with my clients and we don’t stop until we have at least 20 possibilities. Of course, you don’t have to stop when you reach 20, but commit to generating at least that many ideas.

What makes this approach so effective is one idea sparks another until you’re able to come up with possible solutions that weren’t initially on your radar.

Some good ideas, some bad

Invariably, you’ll generate some practical ideas and some impractical ones. Some good ideas and some bad ones. Some that resonate and some you know you’ll never follow through on.

The key is to turn off the critical voice in your head that wants to evaluate the ideas as they’re being generated.

Critiquing while brainstorming is sure to limit the possibilities. The time for analyzing the ideas comes after you’ve generated them—otherwise you lose the momentum and capacity to spark new ideas.

Don’t make the brainstorming session an ordeal. The goal is to be relaxed, let the ideas flow, and generate as many as possible. Twenty minutes is often sufficient time to generate 20 ideas.

My challenge to you is to get unstuck by using the Rule of 20. Define your problem, pose your question, and brainstorm away!