Whenever I need to brainstorm an idea – either by myself, or with a group of people – I pull out flash cards that I’ve made or collected over the years. They are brilliant to ruffle through them, allow our collective imagination to use the visual and verbal stimulation to generate ideas.
Flash cards work as a visual free association. The image – a picture, clip art, charts or diagrams, even ripped out pages from magazines – stimulate your creative thinking by referencing other connections in your brain. By taking the new reference and force-fitting it to your original problem to solve, your brain helps create new solutions. If one imagine doesn’t work, go to another. That’s why the ‘ruffling’ is one of the steps: keep shifting random images via the flash cards to stimulate your imagination to new ideas.
Where to Find Flash Cards
Postcards I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but almost every coffee shop in Australia has a rack of free marketing postcards, visually rich and there for the taking. Given how much I like coffee, it’s no surprise I grab them every time I visit … to the point I now have more than a 1,000 postcards kept in a box near my desk to pull out for solo brainstorming. Sometimes I’ll flick through them quickly, other times I stick them to wall to create a type of mood board. (Top photo.) You don’t have to stick to free ones, of course. I’ve found them in tourist spots or (museum) gift shops. Don’t spend too much money because they tend to wander off – but that’s fine, because I’m constantly refreshing them every time I go out for a flat white.
Magazines Never throw away a magazine! They are a perfect resource of images, especially if you read different types of magazines so you have a broad array of different images and styles. Find a simple basket (I use an old Elfa drawer, second photo) and keep it convenient. For brainstorms, people can grab any magazine they like and flip through for visual stimulation. Or if you want to build a mood board (see link above), ask participants to rip out and hang images on a broad wall. I also keep and store more provocative/stimulating images in a folder at my desk for instant solo brainstorming (third photo). On a slow day, I even went so far to scan and place them in the cloud so I can use them anywhere, even as a screen saver for my computers. My personal preference are visual-only photos (no words) because pictures elicit more and different perspectives from different people, even from the same photo.
Online Image Searches or Social Media One of nice things about so many different online resources – Google, Bing, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr among thousands others – is the free resource at your fingertips on your mobile or tablet.
Laminated Cards The most elaborate method is to create and laminate images on cardstock, like professional flash cards. (Fourth photo.) I still have a set made for me when I was a creative director in New York, and while expensive to make, they’re indestructible … and strangely impressive to clients.
There are also many options you can purchase online, ranging from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars. You’re only limited by your budget. But again, I find when I use them in group brainstorms, some people love to take favourite images, so I typically limit my budget and find easy/cheap ways to re-stock.
I know I’m focused here on visual images, but I’ve created flash cards of random words, verbs, occupations, famous celebrities, historical figures, colours, values and emotions … really, anything will work. And if you need something even quicker, pull out a dictionary or thesaurus.
- If working in a group, place the flash cards in the centre of the table.
- Put the goal, problem or opportunity on the wall for everyone to see as an anchor.
- Facilitate the group by writing down everyone’s thoughts on flipcharts, or have each person record their own thoughts.
- Keep the flash cards moving. Don’t let yourself or someone else get stuck. If the image doesn’t inspire, pass it to someone else who may find some value. The key is keep the cards moving!
How else have you used imagery or concepts similar to flash cards in your brainstorms? Please leave any thoughts or comments below.
Don’t forget to read about other brainstorm techniques by visiting the category of Brainstorm Techniques, Games and Icebreakers.