At its foundation, brainstorming is a creative activity. It fosters out-of-the-box thinking to solve complex problems and deliver creative solutions. But creativity isn’t just a tap you can turn on and off. It’s a skill and a muscle that needs exercise. And just like any muscle, you should warm up your creative muscles before exercising them.
Jumping into a brainstorming session “cold” can reduce your and your team’s effectiveness. Your brain needs to warm up to perform at its best.
So before you head to your next brainstorming session, learn how brainstorming warm-ups can help you, and try these brainstorming warm-ups to get the creative juices flowing.
The benefits of brainstorming warm-up activities
You might think that brainstorming itself is a warm-up exercise that kickstarts creative thinking. But if you go into an ideation session without prepping, it will take longer for you to access your creativity and get into the “zone” mentally. Like a cup of coffee before an early-morning meeting, brainstorming exercises charge your mental batteries and get you ready for the task ahead.
Plus, brainstorming is about more than individual ideas. It’s also about collaboration.
The best brainstorming sessions are about tapping into people’s collective creativity, bouncing thoughts off each other, and building on one another’s ideas. To do this successfully, team members have to trust one another and feel safe and comfortable enough to share openly—even if their thoughts are outlandish, unconventional, or not yet fully formed.
And this is where warm-up activities can come in handy.
Creative warm-up exercises help teams loosen up, break the ice, build trust, and shift their mental focus into a more relaxed and creative headspace. In other words, brainstorming warm-up exercises help get your mental gears moving before ideation sessions so that you and your team are ready to hit the ground running with original ideas.
Top 6 brainstorming warm-up exercises
How exactly do you warm up a brain? (Hint: It’s not by wearing a beanie.)
Try the following brainstorming exercises to help you stretch your creative muscles and boost your innovation and problem solving skills.
1. Alternate Uses
Alternate Uses is an ideation exercise that boosts divergent, out-of-the-box thinking.
How it works:
- Set the timer for three minutes.
- Pick an ordinary object, like a toothbrush.
- Jot down as many ideas as you can of alternate ways you could use that object. For example, a toothbrush could be used to clean things, brush your eyebrows, or create a fun paint splatter effect for an art project.
- Go around the room and have each team member share their favorite ideas.
This is a fun and easy exercise that works for groups of all sizes. And by the end, you should have a wide mix of practical, unusual, and silly ideas. You might even be surprised at how creative you can get after a couple rounds of exercises. This activity is a great way to warm up your brain and get comfortable with your team before diving into a serious brainstorming session.
2. Bad ideas
Brainstorming is all about generating ideas without judgment. The more creative and weird, the better! But getting people to share unpolished thoughts is easier said than done.
The Bad Ideas exercise helps your team approach ideas with an open mind by encouraging them to consider all the possible benefits and applications of even the wildest proposals.
How it works:
- Get in groups of two or three people.
- Assign each group an objectively bad idea, like “Sandpaper Socks” or “Ketchup-flavored Popsicles.”
- Give the groups five minutes to discuss all the potential benefits, uses, and selling points for their assigned product.
- Have each group pitch the team on their bad idea.
Have fun with it. Bad Ideas is a simple activity that can kickstart out-of-the-box thinking and help your team focus on benefits and possibilities rather than all the ways an idea could fail—which is the perfect mindset for generating exciting and original ideas during your formal brainstorming meeting.
3. The expert
The Expert is a lot like the Bad Ideas exercise. The goal is to get into an open mindset that focuses on possibilities instead of roadblocks.
How it works:
- Assign one person to be “the expert.”
- Have the rest of the group shout out two unrelated nouns. These will be combined into a new “product.” For example, let’s say the team suggests “table” and “sneaker.” The product would be a “sneaker table” or “table sneaker.”
- The assigned person then acts as the expert of that product and tries to sell the team on all its wonderful benefits and features.
This is a challenging exercise and does put your “expert” on the spot. But if your team is game, it’s a great way to help your group think on their feet and creatively solve problems.
4. Run-on story
You may have played this game during a party ice breaker. The Run-On Story is when a group creates a story one sentence at a time.
How it works:
- Pick a moderator and have them share a simple prompt (like “Harry’s beach vacation”). Keep it simple and broad so the group can fill in the details as they go.
- Go around the room, one person at a time. Each person shares one sentence that continues the story.
- Keep going until the story finds a natural conclusion or after you’ve gone around the group a few times.
The Run-On Story activity is an exercise in improvisation, which relies on quick thinking and creativity. It also encourages active listening as each person has to pay attention to how the story is unfolding so they can add to the narrative constructively when it’s their turn.
These are essential skills for brainstorming, too. Teams that listen and collaborate well during an ideation session are better able to build on one another’s ideas to create innovative solutions (and they often end up with surprising conclusions).
5. Write with both hands
The left and right sides of our brains control different areas of thought and function. The left hemisphere primarily controls our logical and pragmatic thought (and the right side of our body). The right hemisphere controls our creative, spatial, artistic, and imaginative cognition (and the left side of our body).
Brainstorming works best when both l imaginative ideas and logical problem-solving skills work together. This creative warm up exercise helps you tap into both sides of your brain function.
How it works:
- Give a blank sheet of paper and two pencils to each person.
- Instruct each person to write their full name simultaneously with both hands in opposite directions. So, your right hand would write your name normally while your left hand would write your name backwards, in a mirror image, right to left.
This might be difficult at first, but stick with it. Once your group has mastered their names, you can up the ante by prompting them to draw a picture. Drawing simultaneously like this activates both sides of the brain and warms up your focus and attention to detail.
From jumpstarting your mental process to breaking the ice with your team, creative warm-up exercises can help you go into your next ideation session primed for collaborative and creative brainstorming.
6. Do you agree?
Lucid’s Visual Activities are dynamic, engaging team activities that help you gain insights, understand opinions, and analyze data. They make it easy to catch up, align, and make decisions. Use one of our existing icebreaker templates or create your own, and in seconds, your team can gain consensus on their favorite books, the best burger toppings, and much more.
This activity is simple enough in concept, but it can really facilitate interesting discussions and promote creative individuality among your team, leading to unique ideas and perspectives.
How it works:
- Open a Lucidchart document or Lucidspark board, and select the Visual Activities icon from the navigation menu on the left-hand side.
- Search for “Do you agree?” in the search bar and click on it.
- Take time to personalize the statements your team will express opinions on, and add more if you’d like.
- Preview your changes and click Save changes when you’re finished.
- Click Share for a link to send your team members.
- Once your team members follow the link, they can each click Start and click and drag each sticky note to the matrix. They’ll click Submit at the bottom once they’re finished.
When your whole team has submitted their answers, the responses will be presented visually so you can immediately identify and discuss commonalities and differences. Defend your most controversial thoughts, identify opinions you agree on, and more. This activity challenges individuals to think about their unique opinions and can set them up to give authentic opinions later in a brainstorm.
Now that you’ve got your team’s creative juices flowing, use these tips and tricks to facilitate ideation sessions in Lucidspark.Learn more
Lucidspark, a cloud-based virtual whiteboard, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This cutting-edge digital canvas brings teams together to brainstorm, collaborate, and consolidate collective thinking into actionable next steps—all in real time. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucidspark.com.
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