Free thinking

by Admin
Updated: May 23, 2019

Free thinking is a catchall expression for various individual and group brainstorming techniques

Free thinking is a principle rather than a technique. It essentially involves collecting ideas about a problem separate from any proper analysis of either the problem or the ideas. “Brainstorming” is one such approach that was popularized in the 1950s by Alex Faickney Osborn as a fairly structured group activity for creative thinking.

Now there are many brainstorming techniques, each with its own name and each designed to overcome one or more of the various difficulties associated with the psychologies of those involved.

Since Brainstorming means something specific and represents one of a variety of methods, I group them along with their variations & refinements under the catchall expression “Free thinking.”

Experienced entrepreneurs do individual & group free thinking naturally. When we seek answers we are open to any method of discovering them but we rarely if ever call for a formal group brainstorming session.

A structured approach to problem solving

A widely accepted most sensible approach to problem solving is to first understand the starting point as thoroughly as possible and then work step-by-step towards a solution. It’s methodical and progressive but prone to sticking points - when important details seem to be missing.

When I was a child I had great fun devising weird & wonderful machines. I didn’t know how they would work exactly so I drew boxes to represent the processes I didn’t understand. The boxes were larger or smaller in proportion to how complex or difficult I imagined the processes they represented might be.

With education & experience, I’ve combined the two to create the following generalized approach:

  1. Identify the objective clearly & precisely
  2. Understand the starting point
  3. Try connecting 1-2 using boxes for steps not yet figured out
  4. Imagine all kinds of bizarre solutions for the missing steps
  5. Bounce the most provocative ideas off others
  6. Decide which ideas to investigate
  7. Proceed to the solution with rational analysis

The key feature of the boxes is that they allow you to avoid getting stuck on any particular point while assembling an overall picture.

Note that the initial steps can represent quite a lot of work before other people are involved.

Bouncing ideas

Unlike entrepreneurs, normal people generally need to be accepted by their peers. A meeting that encourages people to contribute ideas that might sound stupid works against this.

I have found “Bouncing ideas“ with two or three people to be highly productive:

  1. Put everyone at ease by pulling them together informally[1]
  2. Describe the problem simply & quickly[2]
  3. Set the tone[3] by contributing an idea
  4. Encourage quantity[4] over quality

[1] Zero notice, mutually familiar (comfortable) place.

[2] Whether or not the people involved have knowledge or experience of the problem, it’s important to prevent any preparation.

[3] It is important to match the tone to the audience. For example, “What if we made it out of Titanium?” and “What if we painted it yellow?” will sound equally goofy to different types of people and the level of goofiness is important - too little doesn’t spark creativity and too much shuts everyone down (and makes them wonder if their boss is insane).

[4] Encouraging rapid-fire suggestions helps to bypass normal filtering.

More info

“The Real Meaning of Brainstorming and How to Do It” at

“Why Brainstorming is a Weak Tool for Creative Thinking” at

“15 Creative Exercises That Are Better Than Brainstorming” at

The boxes concept can be representative of a Turing machine and formalized by the Lambda calculus.

Internal links

Opposite thinking Failstorming Reverse Parkinson Law All articles
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