"Brainstorming" might sound like an overused business buzzword or something your college professor had you doing nonstop, but it's actually a crucial part of doing your job, operating a business, or simply optimizing your thought process. Maybe know all the basic versions, like "cloud brainstorming," when you write down the nucleus of an idea and then branch out to all the potential mini clouds that relate to it. Maybe you're a pro at "just writing," i.e., putting pen to paper for a set amount of time and writing down whatever pops into your head. But maybe those techniques don't work for you all the time.

Google encourages brainstorming by having whiteboards all over its campus. There are numerous places for workers to stop, relax, think, and jot down their ideas. It's a whimsical approach that doesn't take itself too seriously--but it obviously works (at least for a few Googlers). Check out these weird brainstorm techniques that actually work for some people. Who knows--maybe they'll help get you to your next brilliant idea.

1. Embrace your insomnia

Don't get me wrong. I'm not encouraging you to miss your sleep. However, many people have those times of night when they just can't fall asleep and their thoughts won't stop. That might be your prime time for creating. It's not for everyone, though; there are endless studies showing that morning people are more successful. But don't let that stop you.

Or perhaps you need to embrace sleep. It has certainly worked for Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, getting him the main riff of his most famous composition, "Satisfaction." Identify when your best thinking time occurs and capitalize on it--just make sure you have a notepad ready to jot down those gems.

2. Role-play

It's not just for kids (or your significant other). You can role-play anytime and put yourself in the position of your partner, your boss, or even the competition. What would they do in a certain situation, and how would they approach challenges differently? Simply asking yourself to see things from a different perspective might be all it takes to break out of a funk.

3. SWOT analyze the situation

What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of a particular problem? Likewise, you can do a pro and con sheet. It helps when choosing a romantic partner, and it can be a great brainstorming tool, too. This approach is revered by the more analytical types and those who want some concrete evidence before moving forward.

4. Exercise

Depending on how athletic you are, this might sound fantastic or horrible. However, exercise and getting your heart pumping (not to mention forcing yourself to at least partially focus on something else) can encourage new ideas to start flowing. Ideally, exercise outside so you get the added benefit of fresh air and new scenery. Many companies now require regular mini exercise breaks throughout the day for their workers because of the benefits.

5. Take the challenge

Whether you realize it or not, you have a lot of assumptions about a particular challenge, job, or idea. Write them all down (it doesn't matter how outlandish they are) and start challenging them. How can you see them from a different perspective? If it were your job to defend them in court, how would you do it?

At the end of the day, the only brainstorming approach that works is the one that works for you. Explore, test, and experiment to find your perfect match--and remember that it might always be evolving.

Published on: Sep 3, 2014