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Summary:

Whenever I think of some of the serial entepeneurs I’ve met–and I’ve met quite a few–I always decide that some people are simply better than others at generating new ideas. I’ve especially seen this in writing circles I’ve walked in, where some people can simply generate […]

Whenever I think of some of the serial entepeneurs I’ve met–and I’ve met quite a few–I always decide that some people are simply better than others at generating new ideas. I’ve especially seen this in writing circles I’ve walked in, where some people can simply generate new ideas at a machine-gun rate compared to others. There are some good software tools designed to help when brainstorming. In this post, I’ll discuss a few popular ones.

FreeMind is free, open source mind mapping software that you can use either to brainstorm new ideas or to create large visual thought maps showing how one topic leads logically, or often laterally, into another. The best way to get a sense of how it works is to look at some of the many screenshots of existing maps (such as the one above) that people have posted on the web. The maps range by topic, from maps on health to investing to learning new languages.


Of course, there are also a lot of idea mapping software applications that rely on drawing tools and objects to show how a flow of ideas might logically go. Microsoft Office Visio is one of the most commonly used software applications in this category. It comes with pre-built ways to visually express everything from flow charts to business process diagrams.

Smart Draw isn’t quite as powerful as Visio among the drawing- and object-based idea mapping software solutions, but it has a loyal user base and is very easy to use. It makes it easy to put one central idea at the center of a page and then start connecting orbiting ideas around it.

You can also find some good essays and instructions online, which discuss good tips for brainstorming sessions. These include experimenting with going at a fast idea-generation pace even if most of the ideas you generate aren’t great, and changing the scenery as you consider new ideas.

Finally, don’t forget that software tools that you just happen to be very comfortable with can help you when brainstorming. I know a very talented web designer who does all of his prototyping and initial page designs in Excel, of all things to use. He has huge Excel libraries of buttons, graphics, boxes, and other objects that he just noodles around with until he’s ready to turn to a tool such as Dreamweaver. Hey, whatever works.

Do you know of any good applications or tools for generating new ideas?

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  1. It’s got to be FreeMind all the way.
    I have tried a few and this tool is feature rich and the least intrusive. You can do everything you need to from the keyboard so you can focus on just getting your ideas down.

    Ross
    http://www.RossGoodman.com

  2. Oh, and I forgot to say, as it’s java based you can just bung it on your USB key and use it on any/every PC !

    Ross
    http://www.RossGoodman.com

  3. I love mind mapping because I am a very visual person… There are a bunch of others that are really cool, but my favorite is Mind Manager. There is also a free one called Cayra – check http://www.cayra.net.

    Also mind meiser is another web based one.

  4. The best brainstorming tool for me is a box of colored Sharpies and paper. I grew up mostly before computers, and new ideas still flow best for me out and onto paper! I use newsprint for big focused ideas, and a small notebook for the ideas that hit frequently throughout the day.

  5. i’ll also vote for Cayra, it’s a feature rich application and the maps that come out of it look like a thing of beauty!

    and it helps me to get insights about problems that i can’t solve, because i can always get a different picture out of the same map, you know what i mean?

  6. Can’t believe nobody has mentioned http://bubbl.us – it’s great!

  7. I really like MindApp from http://www.mindapp.com. It’s not free, but it’s much cheaper than some of its competitors. It’s a pretty nice tool and it’s easy to pick up because it works similarly to a word processing application.

  8. Laurence@SmartDraw Monday, March 17, 2008

    Thanks for the mention. I would like to point out, however, that SmartDraw does much more than just mind maps. Brainstorming is often linked to mindmaps but matrix diagrams (http://www.smartdraw.com/encyclopedia/bcg-matrix-diagram.htm) are effective as well. Well, consultants sure like em. Heck, just getting ideas down in a program or on paper is a good first step =)

  9. Laurence@SmartDraw Monday, March 17, 2008

    Linked for convenience:
    matrix diagrams

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