Last updated Jun 2020
The guide to mastering online brainstorming
Iris Latour,
Customer Insights Manager at Miro
Hailing from the design world, Iris has written articles and facilitated workshops at conferences on design thinking, business design, culture design, and the creative ideation process.

20 Brainstorming Techniques That Work

Brainstorming: we’ve all tried it, but how many of us have done it effectively online? How many of us have enjoyed it? In this chapter of our series on the art of online brainstorming, we're sharing 20 brainstorming techniques and frameworks you can try on your own or with your team – in a fully remote or hybrid setup!

1. Mind Mapping

Mind mapping helps you diagram a collection of disparate thoughts. Using an organizational structure, you start by drawing a central node and then use lines, symbols, colors, images, and words to connect that node to other information.

2. Brain Writing

Brain Writing is an approach to online brainstorming that helps improve focus and organization. Unlike normal free-form brainstorming where a group comes together and yells out creative ideas and one person tries to capture them on a whiteboard or in a document, brain writing is a quieter activity with individual work time followed by group collaboration.

It works wonders for introverted personalities and can be a way to source a lot of ideas — it works well with a few or a lot of participants. It’s a technique that can also work well in combination with other brainstorming methods, like S.C.A.M.P.E.R, which we’ll get into next.

3. S.C.A.M.P.E.R.

This helpful acronym allows you to improve ideas by poking at them from different angles. It works great when combined with a brain writing session. S.C.A.M.P.E.R. stands for:

  • Substitute (What would happen if we swapped X for Y?)

  • Combine (What would happen if we combined X and Y?)

  • Adapt (How could we adapt this thing to a different context?)

  • Modify (How could we modify this product to add more value?)

  • Put to Another Use (What other uses might this project have?)

  • Eliminate (What could we remove from this project?)

  • Reverse (How might we reorganize this project to make it more effective?). Utilize the templates to track everyone’s responses.

4. Lightning Decision Jam

A technique created by our friends at design agency AJ&Smart, the Lightning Decision Jam is a great way to brainstorm around a broad topic. According to them, it's "the perfect workshop to solve big problems quickly," helping you to replace all open-ended, unstructured meetings with a clear process. Instead of never-ending discussions, "you can use this simple exercise to encourage creativity and foster innovation." For example, they use it for:

  • The conversion flow of checkout on their site

  • An internal design process

  • Organizing events

  • Keeping up with the competition

  • Improving sales flow

It only takes about 40 minutes to run and always leaves you and your team feeling involved, energized, productive – and it gives you tangible, actionable results.

5. Rapid Ideation

Giving your group a time limit, have everyone write as many ideas as possible on a piece of paper, sticky note, or in an e-doc. When that’s done, you can have the group vote on the best ideas, discuss what everyone came up with, or you can give the ideas to a “decider” to pick the most actionable. You can easily time your group’s rapid ideation session using Miro’s Stickies Bulk Mode, mind map, or Countdown Timer features.

6. Random Word Picker

Also called “free association,” you draw random words from a bank. You then go around the group and invite team members to draw associations between those words at the topic at hand. Use the template to keep track of all the associations.

7. The Idea Napkin

Created by the UX design team at ORBIT, The Idea Napkin method “encourages a vast variety – as well as diverging quality – of ideas.” It allows brainstorming participants to enrich and enhance their ideas by applying a structured approach, allowing for better assessment and comparison of ideas. Check out their Miro template to give it a try.

8. Reverse Brainstorming

The concept behind reverse brainstorming is simple. Instead of brainstorming solutions to one problem, you brainstorm actual problems. This allows a different perspective: humans have a natural ability to see problems more easily than solutions, so you can use this to identify hurdles your team might face when working on a project. Think of it as a way to tap a group to brainstorm all the ways a plan could fail. Then you can start problem solving.

9. The Pitch Canvas©

The Pitch Canvas© by David Beckett is a brainstorming tool to help entrepreneurs think through their pitch to investors, partners and customers. It involves three steps to generate ideas, refine ideas, and build a storyline that’ll help you talk about relevant business topics with certainty and confidence.

10. Round Robin

The round robin technique starts by inviting one participant to share an idea. You then go around the group and have each person share an idea that builds off of the previous ones. Think of it as real-time improv — you say “yes, and” to an idea to build upon it as a group.

11. How Now Wow

The How Now Wow matrix is a tool you can use to brainstorm ideas and organize them based on their originality and ease of implementation. “How” is used to describe ideas that are innovative but not yet feasible, “Now” refers to ideas that are familiar, easy to implement, and proven to work well, and “Wow” describes ideas that are new but still easy to implement. The goal of using the matrix is to come up with as many “Wow” ideas as possible.

12. Step Ladder

This group brainstorming technique encourages everyone to contribute. Start by allowing two members of the group to discuss the topic at hand. Then add a third member of the group to the discussion. Add a fourth, a fifth, and so on, until everyone has contributed.

13. Storyboarding

A storyboard is a sequence of illustrations that are used to develop a story. Many businesses use storyboarding to understand and map customer experiences. The technique is instrumental for aligning your team, pitching an idea, understanding the customer journey, and much more.

14. Six Thinking Hats

This method encourages you to wear different “hats” and think about a problem from various angles: thinking about the available data, using your intuition, looking at potentially negative outcomes, thinking about positive outcomes, looking at a problem creatively, and thinking about how to control a process. A template can be useful here because it helps you keep track of everyone’s “hats” for a particular problem.

15. SWOT Analysis

The SWOT in SWOT analysis stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It allows you to consider all angles when planning your business’s strategy.

16. Brain Netting

Brain netting is simply brainstorming over the internet. But there are a lot of creative ways to do it: group calls, chat apps, video conferencing, and much more. Regardless of how you do it, it’s vital to have an online whiteboard to record your ideas and sketch out plans.

Learn how to use Miro's online whiteboard to brainstorm online

17. Wishing

Wishing is exactly what it sounds like! Think about your ideals: features, products, or plans that you wish you could build. What makes them unattainable? Why aren’t they possible? Thinking about the impossible might help you unlock some creative possibilities.

18. Five Whys

The Five Whys is a framework for brainstorming the root of a problem. Fundamentally, the approach is simple: you ask why a given problem happened, and then you ask “why” four more times. It allows you to have a focused discussion so you don’t get distracted by other topics. Start with a problem statement, examine why that problem exists, then continue moving through each problem until you identify a core issue that you can act upon.

19. Word Banking

Take the typical free association game to the next level. After free associating words and ideas, form groups of terms that describe just a few topics. Use these word banks to break a process or project down into manageable chunks.

20. Crazy Eights

A way to ideate creative solutions to a problem, Crazy Eights involved giving each participant a template that has eight boxes. You set a timer for eight minutes, then ask each person to sketch eight quick ideas. Once time is up, go around and share. Repeat this process to allow folks to build off of each others' ideas.

Try these techniques yourself

These are just a few ways to boost idea generation and creative thinking, and ultimately make your brainstorming sessions more productive and enjoyable. Check out Miro’s free brainstorming templates for more ways to brainstorm yourself.

Ready to get the ideas flowing with your remote or hybrid team? Try Miro’s free online brainstorming tool.

Work in the Miro app
Add ideas, digitize sticky notes, and drop in comments on the go.