There are countless ways to brainstorm, but humans are creatures of habit. You probably haven't broken out of your go-to methods since you were forced to in college. That's OK, because it just means you have an abundance of options at your fingertips. Whether you're an executive, in the creative field, headed back to school, or in the hospitality industry, creativity is key. Everyone can get stuck sometimes, but how you pull yourself out can make all the difference.

Do you even realize when you're brainstorming? Think it's a buzzword best reserved for kids who are strapping on those invisible thinking caps? It's actually just a means of opening your creative floodgates so you--and your work--and your employees, will benefit. Here are five of the best approaches to try out:

Freehand writing

Yes, this is just like the task they had you do in school, but as an adult you're going to be much better at it. The next time you're facing a project, even if you don't feel stuck quite yet, give yourself 10 minutes (or more) of simply putting pen to paper and writing. I do this all the time on my personal blog. The majority of what you "get out" isn't going to be gold, but you might find yourself on a different and more interesting track. You may come up with some insights tucked into your subconscious you didn't notice. It's a great way to get things started.

Pro/con list

This isn't just a fantastic tool for dating, or deciding whether to get your 5-year-old a dart board for Christmas: When facing any problem, make a list of all the pros and cons. Not only can this help you make a tough decision, it also gives you a fresh perspective. Let's say you're part of a team at work that's charged with picking out the new cloud hosting platform. You have your choices narrowed down to two, but haven't been able to scoot forward from there. A pros and cons list might help you see clearly who the winner is.

Role playing

This can take several angles such as, "If I were my boss, I would..." or "If I were Kim Kardashian, I would..." and so on. Empathy, or thinking from the perspective of someone else, can help you see things you otherwise wouldn't. Try out a few different roles and see who around you has the best ideas. After all, you never know what Kim might come up with. Try this technique with different people and you will get a plethora of different options.

Mapping

This is what many people think of when they hear the word, "brainstorming." (It's also called webbing.) Put the key word (the problem), in the middle of a piece of paper, then branch off into any and all related word(s) from there. It's similar to creating a family tree, and it helps keep things organized as you explore. If you're having trouble wrangling your issues together, this can help keep you in check.

Reverse storming

Ask yourself what the majority would do in this situation, then consider what would happen if you did the opposite. If everyone on your team is leaning towards bringing candidate A on board, for example, what would happen if you went with candidate B? Write down potential scenarios and situations from the most non-judgmental, logical perspective you can muster, then explore the possibilities in the atmosphere of, "anything goes." Really, this is fun!

Your first decision is often right. But first and rash decisions are not really the same. Still, if your gut is screaming something in particular, go with your gut--it usually won't lead you astray. Give yourself permission to ask, "What if?" It just might lead you to a better answer.

What other ideas have you found to help you brainstorm better?

Published on: Nov 14, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.