Everyone has problems and challenges that need solving; they’re an inevitable part of living. What many people don’t realize, however, is that most of them can be overcome using a simple, focused program of personal brainstorming. Here’s how…

Step 1: State your problem clearly

Before you start, firmly plant in your mind the idea that your problem can and will be solved. Your job is to find that solution, using personal brainstorming.

State your problem clearly and concisely in one sentence at the top of a blank sheet of paper. Then write down everything you know about your current problem or challenge. Try to isolate and write down specific factors or trends that have contributed to it. Keep in mind that a problem, clearly defined, is already half solved.

By gathering all of the information that you know about your challenge and laying it out in front of you in tangible form, you enable your most powerful problem-solving tool — your brain — to see connections, interrelationships and implications in the information you’ve collected, which would not be obvious if you just kept all of this information in your head.

Think about people who have faced problems or challenges similar to the one you are facing. What strategies or solutions did they use? Then determine if any elements of their solutions can be adapted to your current situation.

Step 2: Brainstorm solutions

As you review your problem statement and supporting information, write down any ideas that occur to you. Don’t censor yourself at this point; there will be plenty of time to evaluate your ideas later. Write down every idea, no matter how far-fetched. Your goal at this stage of the personal ideation process is to generate a large quantity of ideas.

Ask yourself: How would a person who is an expert in this area solve this problem? You might want to try this exercise using famous people from history, creative thinkers such as Albert Einstein, or other leaders and innovators that you respect. Your goal for this exercise is to perform a bit of “slight of head” — to whack your thinking into a different frame of reference to generate fresh ideas and insights.

Divide your problem into its component pieces and write each of them down — perhaps in a mind map or outline that shows the relationships between each element. Then, try brainstorming ideas for each one. This “slice and dice” technique often works well when you’re faced with complex or multi-dimensional challenges.

Envision an ideal future goal or outcome. Then work backwards to the present, writing down the steps you would need to take now to move toward that objective.

If you find yourself running out of ideas too quickly, don’t give up. Keep working at it until you have written down at least 20 possible ideas or solutions. Many times, the first 5 to 10 ideas you write down are top-of-mind solutions; often the best ideas take more concentrated and prolonged brainstorming to emerge.


Your subconscious mind likes closure. When faced with an incomplete picture (see the example below), it works to complete the mental image by inferring the missing information. Your mind works the same way on an unsolved problem or challenge; it loves to dive right in and get the job done.

In closing, remember that you can solve your problems and capitalize on new opportunities using personal ideation. All you need is a pencil, a pad of paper and a quiet “thinking spot” to tap into your creative muse.