The word ‘brainstorm’ gets mis-used. People variously misunderstand it to be a moment of confused thinking, or a flash of inspiration. Technically, however, it is an idea-generation technique used in planning and decision-making.

Brainstorming works by separating the process of generating of ideas from evaluating them. You suspend judgement when brainstorming in order to free you imagination to run wild. By temporarily removing constraints and limitations it enables you to be more creative in the ideas you come up with.

When brainstorming you can be as crazy as you like. It’s fun to do it with a friend, against the clock, to see how many ideas you can write down in answer to the question “what could I do instead of this job I no longer enjoy?”.

Putting a time limit on it – say 5 minutes – helps raise the energy.

The trick is not to critique the ideas as you go along. Do not consider how feasible they are, whether they are realistic or achievable – just put them down. However don’t get caught in the trap up of deliberately trying to be way-out or absurd; stick to the brief, but suspend judgement.

The reason you do this is because it helps you focus on possibilities rather than limitations. You may also find that, when you come to evaluate the ideas afterwards, with a little adjustment one of the craziest ideas could be adapted into something really good and do-able.

After you have brainstormed your ideas, you review the list and start evaluating them against your priorities or constraints, like “is that realistic?”, “could I afford it?”, “would it make me happy?”.

You can also apply brainstorming to the How part of the process, eg “How could I retrain as a hairdresser?”; “How could I fund the training?”.