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This article was published on June 5, 2014

Stuck in a rut? An exercise on how to be an out-of-the-box thinker

Stuck in a rut? An exercise on how to be an out-of-the-box thinker
Jason Zook
Story by

Jason Zook

Jason Zook is best known for being the guy that made over $1,000,000 wearing t-shirts for a living and selling his last name (twice). He wri Jason Zook is best known for being the guy that made over $1,000,000 wearing t-shirts for a living and selling his last name (twice). He writes an action-packed newsletter that’s free to join called The Action Army.

Jason SurfrApp is the founder of His new book, Creativity For Sale, is an in-depth look at how to turn passion into profit.

When it comes to thinking creatively for business, most people believe you have to be wired a certain way or use a certain side of your brain. I disagree. In fact, I think the more naturally creative you are, the harder time you have focusing on the business side of things (marketing, promotion, sales, etc).

This is why most artists create brilliant work, but have a hard time generating revenue.

But fear not. Regardless of your level of inherent creativity I’ve developed an exercise that, without fail, produces creative thoughts. This same exercise helped me create, a business that from 2009-2013 generated over $1,000,000 in revenue. It also helped me create BuyMyLastName and SponsorMyBook, two businesses that both brought in six figure income.

But this exercise doesn’t limit itself to simply creating a new business idea, it’s also incredibly useful for coming up with content ideas, strategies, marketing plans, a client pitch, ways to attract mainstream media, and more.

I call it “No Bad Ideas Brainstorming.” You’ve probably tried doing brainstorming before. Whether you work for yourself or a company, perhaps you’ve yet to attack a brainstorming session under the simple premise that “no idea is a bad idea.”

Here is how “No Bad Ideas Brainstorming” works:

1. Collaboration is key

You’ll need at least one other person with you, and preferably in the same place. Skype/GoToMeeting can work, but it’s not optimal.

Like a child’s board game, this exercise is most effective with two to eight players. I’d also recommend having people from different backgrounds (or positions in your company) participate. You want different styles of thinking working together. 

2. Remove all technology from the brainstorming session

Ringing phones, pop-up notifications, SnapChat alerts, music, etc, are all a distraction and will impede the creative process. This is why I think it’s absolutely optimal to do this exercise in person. It’s also good to be a in a quiet place. That’s why libraries still exist, after all.

3. Assign a note-taker for the brainstorming session

This is very important: do not take notes electronically. Use a whiteboard (preferred), large notepad, or a bunch of pieces of paper.

The note-taker should participate, but should also write down 100 percent of the ideas submitted by the group (remember: there are no bad ideas). 

4. Establish your agenda for the brainstorming session

Are you looking to create a new business? Are you looking to come up with marketing ideas for your existing product or service? Are you trying to create a content calendar and need ideas for social media updates and blog posts? Maybe your company needs a new name?

Whatever it is, each brainstorming session should only have one focus. 

5. Set a time limit

I like 90 minutes for my brainstorming sessions. The first 45 minutes are spent just throwing tons of ideas out there and the second 45 minutes are spent honing those ideas. 

6. Go around in a circle and have everyone verbally share ideas (one-by-one)

No idea is criticized or given negative feedback. The importance of not giving negative feedback or criticizing any idea is that it keeps creative momentum going. You’ll find yourself hearing a bad idea, but instead of commenting on how it was bad, it sparks a much better idea. 

7. *Bonus*

It may sound weird, but I like to get up and move around before the brainstorming session starts. It much easier to come from a mental state of movement and energetic feelings than it is from sitting staring at a bright screen.

Do 10 jumping jacks. Do a couple pushups. Go for a short walk outside right before you start (without technology). 

To recap: Get two to eight people in a quiet space without technology. Set a time limit to brainstorm without ideas being criticized. Physically write down every idea given. Pick the best ideas and flesh them out further. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The “No Bad Ideas Brainstorming” exercise works extremely well, but you must make sure to ignore your urge to offer criticism and negative feedback. Our brain is incredibly powerful at building momentum, especially as it relates to creative thought. But as soon as we let negativity creep in those thought processes come to a screeching halt

The first time you do this exercise it might not end with wild success (much like the first time you tried to ride a bicycle). The key is to keep trying the exercise and to keep working on it being a very positive experience. The better you get at keeping negative thoughts at bay, the more efficient you’ll be at coming up with creative ideas. 

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