Zap! Zing! Pow! Storm Away, Baby!

brainstorming graphic

You brainstorm every day. What to wear. What to eat for lunch. What to do this weekend. The brain is constantly in problem-solve mode, and it collects what you've already experienced in the past and filters that to an option you can act upon. The option that you end up with is typically rationalized with past experience or chosen based on your mood. The latter process is a type of convergent brainstorming, where you converge (or conclude) to one option, so you can take the next step.

It's likely that you don't have time to gather a few friends together, hit a conference room and do a mind map or sticky note mashup of 30, 40 or 50 different ideas for lunch. But what if you did? What would the result be?

It certainly would be creative, that's for sure. It would combine the experiences and desires of all of you, and generate entirely new ideas and thinking around something as mundane as lunch.


The latter example is called divergent brainstorming—the purest and most commonly associated method for brainstorming. Divergent brainstorming is the process of conjuring many ideas. Listing ideas, putting each idea on a note and displaying them on a wall, creating quick sketches of scenarios and gathering them all together.

If you stick with it long enough—and that could be just beyond the five-minute mark—you will shift from generating ideas based on past experience ("I like that sandwich shop on Vine Avenue with the mac and cheese") to truly creating new ideas. This is when you connect with your inner genius and allow your truest desires to come out to play. You will notice the shift. It will feel exciting, exhilarating, and engaging (yes, this is lunch we're talking about). It will be so much fun, you won't want to stop.

Because you're hungry, though, you'll have to. And that's when you move to convergent brainstorming.


This stage of the brainstorming process is when you evaluate the divergent brainstorming results and siphon down to a few select choices or one choice that is actionable. What you choose can be based on your own set of criteria, such as what's close, what can be done in one hour, what introduces a different cuisine, etc. You are also doing this every day—you just call it making a decision.

Brainstorming is creative, it is problem solving, and it is creating possibility and options. What you choose depends on your preferences and to what degree you wish to add texture and variety to your life. Brainstorming is critical to breaking free of monotonous routines and selections that don't excite and delight you. Add more divergent brainstorming to your life and see what opens up.


  1. Pick something routine and mundane in your life. It could be a chore you regularly do at home, how you dress, or the way you approach your to-do list.
  2. Make a list of the many ways you could approach it differently. Consider location, timing, who's involved, pacing, emotional state with which you do it in (like singing the whole time you're stacking the dishwasher instead of just stacking it quietly). Be creative in your ideas, or just plain goofy. Just because you write it down doesn't mean you have to actually do it. Stretch yourself into slight discomfort to get more creative ideas flowing, such as having your local weather person to pick your outfit for the day. What would they say? What would they choose for you?
  3. When you feel as though you've exhausted new ideas, review your list and put a star next to the items that came out of the past experience filter. These are typically the first ones that you come up with. The easiest way to do this is to look at each one and ask yourself, "Why did I list this?" and check in if it was based on something you experienced or witnessed in the past or if it is purely an invented, brand new idea. This can be a little challenging, so don't get too hung up on it. The purpose of creating this distinction for yourself is that you retrain your brain to think of new ideas as opposed to recycled ideas stimulated by a past experience that was either preferred or not preferred by you.
  4. If the proportion of "past" items versus truly new and creative items is larger, pick a non-past item and DO IT especially if the idea of doing it makes you a teensy bit uncomfortable. (Discomfort is where true growth happens, by the way.) If your creative items list is larger, then celebrate by giving yourself a treat and doing any item on the list you want.

It's tempting to cheat on this Play, especially since you are creating the list. If you want to have a real breakthrough, however, and live a more lively, interesting life, stick to the steps. Adding brainstorming to your life can be easy and can improve your day-to-day happiness in ways you may have never imagined. Realize that you are not a victim of your daily activities. You are in total control of how you perceive and act from moment to moment. It's up to you to brainstorm a life you love.



Terry Pappy is CEO of Better3, creator of Compass Playbook and author of award-winning books on creativity. What she says about Compass: "It's a fun resource that helps people achieve their dreams using creativity—simply by telling a new story." Terry uses humor and straight-talk to inspire breakthroughs in creativity for audiences around the globe.