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Unfiltered Brainstorming

A vital part of planning is just sitting there and coming up with possibilities. And walking around the grocery store coming up with possibilities. And leaning against the counter during your coffee break and coming up with possibilities.

Limited Options

The very first challenge to making significant, life-changing plans is that we can’t see how to get there from here. The truth is that we tend to limit our thinking to our everyday lives and so don’t realize we tend to eliminate options before considering them properly. 

As a result, we rely too heavily on the gleaming, glamorous-looking items that catch our attention in a limited search. These are usually trying to sell us something.

Making a change in your life starts with changing your thinking, and that requires considering all sorts of possibilities, no matter how crazy or foreign, no matter how much your knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss ideas as “silly” or “impossible.”

Fight down the voice that says nothing but no, and you’ll get into the zone I call “unfiltered brainstorming.” Ideas lead to ideas, and you cannot tell what will be useful in the future.

Use Your People

Getting friends (no more than two at a time so you can pay attention) to help in a brainstorming session helps in several ways. You’ll get fresh input, and you’ll (hopefully) be less openly dismissive of others’ crazy ideas than you tend to be of your own.

Prepare a Good Space

Creativity thrives with new input. Take yourself and your friends someplace neutral, at least, or inspiring, at best. Bring good tools for taking notes, like a large Post-It Self-Stick Easel Pad with Sharpie markers.

Keep your face neutral and welcoming. Explain clearly what you want: “Our goal today is to create an unfiltered list of options for my next _____.” That blank space may be a race, a new career, a personal project, becoming better at marketing, or whatever you want.

Now, make sure you record everything. At the unfiltered brainstorming stage, nothing should be discarded.


Remember that not all ideas come as statements (i.e., I can recruit a student intern to help me without cost). Ideas also come as observations and questions.

  • I notice you really hated that job in customer complaints.
  • How do you feel about crunching numbers all day?
  • You’re really good at listening to other people’s problems.
  • Would it bother you to work with animals?

Double the List with a Flip

If a good brainstorming session has left you with 36 ideas, make that at least 72 ideas by including their opposite.

For example:

  • Would you like to work with animals? (Is working with animals an absolute no-go?)
  • Do you think you’d like to be more creative in your work? (Do you really care about being creative, or do you get your creative ya-yas out with other things? Is being helpful the most important thing?)
  • How can I lose 20 pounds? (Why do people fail to lose weight?)

One idea might lead to several more if you phrase your questions and comments in new ways, and that gives you all that much more to work with.