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Creative tools > Brainmapping

When to use it | How to use it | Example | How it works | See also


When to use it

Use it when individuals in a group have different problems.

Use it to solve multiple problems at the same time.

You can also use it to solve individual problems.

Use it when the people prefer to work quietly rather than in a verbal, 'shouting it out' session.

Another use is as an ice-breaker with a mid-sized audience.



  X        Long



    X      Psychological



        X  Group


How to use it

Form the team

Get together a group of people who all have creative problems that they want solving. These may be people working on different parts of the same project or maybe a group of people on a creative workshop.

Sit the people in a circle. It can be around a table, although a more creative approach is a circle of chairs. In any case, ensure they can write on a piece of paper (thus they have paper and something on which to rest it.

Write the problem

Each person writes their problem in the centre of the page. The usual approach is to write the problem as a single clear statement, such as 'How to increase security awareness in office'. You can also use something more creative, such as an analogous essence.

Add a stimulus

Each person now passes their page to their left (or their right, if you like). When everyone has received the page from the person next to them, each person draws one branch leading off from the original problem and adds a single stimulus that will be used later to trigger further thoughts. This may be single word or a short phrase.

A stimulus may be simple and logical, such as 'doors' for the security example, or it may be more outlandish. The key thing to remember is that it should be helpful for triggering further creative ideas (thus a tightly-constrained single idea is not what is really wanted). Ambiguity works well here, such as 'movement'.

Complete the stimuli

This process is now repeated, with each person handing on their page and receiving another. Do not, at this time, add sub-elements to the stimulus, but rather add main stimuli that branch off the central problem.

Eventually, each page should arrive back at the problem owner, with a set of stimuli branching off around it.

Develop the ideas

Now the process continues, with the pages being repeatedly written on (one idea at a time) and passed on. Each person now looks at a stimulus and adds either a sub-stimulus or a more complete thought.

This process repeats, with people adding an idea and passing it on until either you run out of time or the ideas slow down.

The completed brainmapping diagram is then given to its grateful originator.


An insurance sales person is given a new set of policies to sell into a difficult domestic market. To make the problem more stimulating for others, it is translated into the analogous 'How to sell ice-cream to Eskimos'. The page is passed around the group and stimuli and ideas added as below. The sales person then uses the results as a stimulus for further thinking and comes up with notion of sub-customising the policies to particular segments, rather than trying to hit everyone with the same vanilla product. 

How it works

Brainmapping is a combination of brainwriting and mind-mapping. The brainwriting method circulates ideas to keep on re-triggering more and different ideas. Mind-mapping provides a simple hierarchical and visual structure through which ideas can be linked and developed.

A variant of this is to do it on flipcharts. Put the pages up on the wall with the problems on, and let people randomly wander around (or go in a particular direction) and add ideas to develop each mind-map.

Another idea is to do it pictorially. Thus ideas can be expressed simply as doodled pictures. This is better for people who like and can interpret drawings. You are likely to get greater ambiguity this way, which of course can lead to more creative ideas.

You will not see this method elsewhere, as it is one of my own (unless somebody else has invented it, which is quite possible!).

See also

Brainwriting, Mind-mapping


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