You're Only as Good as Your Next Idea

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?