Every tool you need for effective brainstorming

6 min read

Everything starts with an idea. Everything that you see around you — your phone, computer, car, coffee mug — all that came from someone’s mind. There’s nothing quite like coming up with a winning idea, one that leads to something successful. It'd be great to be able to do that every day but, unfortunately, our minds don’t work like that.

Some days you’ll have dozens of ideas floating around your brain, other days there’ll be nothing, nada. If you work in any sort of creative industry, these idealess days are like nightmares. And the more you’re tasked with coming up with ideas, the quicker your brain turns to mush. This is where a successful brainstorming session can help. 

In this article, we’ll tell you about mind map tools and the benefits of brainstorming. 

What is brainstorming?

The end goal of any brainstorming session is an idea. But the quality of this idea is always determined by the quality of ideation itself. So what does brainstorming mean as a process? You’ll find lots of definitions, but the most comprehensive of all would be the following: 

Brainstorming is the process of using specific rules and techniques to find the idea that solves your problem/the problem of a group.

If you dive into the topic, you’ll find a huge number of brainstorming activities, ranging from meeting in a physical space to online brainstorming exercises. Well, considering the 21st century, you’ll most likely choose the latter. 

The complexity of available online tools goes from a simple Google Doc to advanced visualization apps. Real-time edits, commenting, interactive checklists, and drawing instruments — all these crazy features can be a part of your brainstorming techniques. In fact, depending on your needs, a digital tool can imitate your live interaction with people on the subject of specific ideas. So that you won’t even notice your collaborators are not in the room. 

If you’re up for trying a simple brainstorming flow, G Suite is a nice place to start. Here are all its tools you can use for free: 

  • Groups for inviting a group of people to join your brainstorming session. Takes a single email. 
  • See when everyone’s available for a brainstorming session in Calendar. You can also create a shared team calendar with customizable time zone settings. 
  • Shared drive to quickly provide access to whatever you’re working on — the whole group gets an invite in one click, no matter what organization they are in. 
  • Plan projects and brainstorming topics in Sheets. You’ll be able to create a shareable project plan with custom filter views and attach them to your meetings.  
  • Docs will give you a perfect spot for laying out your ideas. Share a doc with a group of people, view, comment and make edits in real time, Plus, Google Docs are so simple in use that no one ever gets lost. 
  • A conversation is never overrated. Hangouts Meet is a great tool for jumping right into a call with your collaborators. 
  • Collect feedback via Forms. The tool allows you to create an editable questionnaire and share it with your collaborators. 

Effective, yet not exciting. That’s what a creative person would call G Suite when it comes to brainstorming. If you need more bells and whistles, there are tons of professional alternatives. 

For visual types of brainstorming, MindNode is what you need. This app allows you to make beautiful representations of virtually anything, from a storyline to project plan. Here’s how you can use it for visual mind maps: 

  1. Use Quick Entry to add your ideas. 
  2. Enrich text with links and images. 
  3. To add illustrations, use the Sticker Search menu. 
  4. Add new and sibling nodes as you go. 
  5. Switch to the Outline view to search through your ideas, and enable Focus view if you want to see only specific items. 

If you’re more of a let’s-jot-this-down type, consider TaskPaper for writing brainstorming: 

  1. Choose a stylesheet that fits your flow. 
  2. Type your ideas and let the app apply text formatting automatically. 
  3. Organize items by tasks, projects, tags, and notes for easy search. 
  4. Integrate with Reminders to add deadlines. 

The mentioned apps are pretty robust, but there’s no limit to your brainstorming expectations. We’ll talk about more solutions in a sec. 

The rules of successful brainstorming

If you have more than two people working on a project, expect disagreements. In this case, some kind of a regulated process is required. For sure, you can define your own brainstorming rules. But if you want a professional advice, we are happy to provide it. 

When it comes to brainstorming ideas, there is no one better to follow than the godfather of brainstorming, its inventor, Alex Osborn. In his book, Applied Imagination: Principles and Practices of Creative Thinking, Osborn talks about the creative process, how to generate ideas and answer brainstorming questions. Here are his four rules: 

  1. Criticism is not allowed.
  2. The more ideas, the better. Quantity over quality.
  3. The wilder the idea, the better.
  4. Improve on, and combine, existing ideas.

All these will help you to come up with meaningful ideas. 

Why traditional brainstorming sessions are ineffective 

Well, you need to commute. But that’s not the only drawback of getting together for a brainstorming session. There are many group-related issues that can hamper your productivity while brainstorming. People are too anxious to voice their ideas, it’s hard to keep track of the timing when you meet in a physical space — so, basically, too much stress involved. This is where the massacre of many brilliant ideas happens. Not to mention the cost of running traditional sessions. With all kinds of free brainstorming software available, it just doesn’t make real sense. 

The best format of brainstorming 

If you’re working with others, it’s good to go the digital route with brainstorming to document the process easier and not have to decipher other people’s handwriting (important!) 

But when it comes to extensive projects, a simple list or an outline may not be enough. This is why we recommend using digital mind maps for a session of any complexity. Here’s how to create an effective mind map online: 

  1. Decide on a central idea. This is the powerhouse of your session — a central concept that will shape the course of brainstorming. Place it into the heart of you visual map. 
  2. Add branches/nodes. These are the subtopics that you can further divide into smaller chunks of information. 
  3. Enrich your nodes with media and links. Images, stickers, illustrations, whatever expands your ideas. 
  4. Make connections. You can align subtopics and branches to visualize connections between them. 

5 apps to brainstorm more effectively 

Whether to draw a professional brainstorming map chart or jot down a few simple ideas, you’ll need a digital space for that. Visual brainstorming will require a tool for adding images and stickers as well as drawing connections. For writing purposes, you can use a handy text editor. We’ve compiled the top 5 apps that do both jobs perfectly.


XMind to document ideas with minimum fuss

XMind is one of the most popular mind-mapping software on the planet. It’s brilliantly simple to use and features a brainstorming mode to document ideas with minimum fuss.

XMind app

Choose from the list of pre-made templates or draw your own cartoonish mind map and bring it to life with a range of icons, images, and clipart. The absence of any real learning curve is a big part of what makes XMind so great. At the same time, its powerful slide-show presentation and Gantt view modes are what really sets it apart from the competition. The cloud integration allows you to sync, view, and edit mind maps online on all of your devices so that you can brainstorm on the move.

iThoughtsX to get in-depth with your brainstorming and mind mapping

If you want to get in-depth with your brainstorming and mind mapping, you’ll love what iThoughtsX brings to the table. The app boasts multiple layouts, map styles and link styles, and features over 200 built-in icons, clipart images, and background canvas designs. You can change colors and fonts, insert hyperlinks, add notes, and embed documents across all major file formats. Basically, anything that you want to achieve with a mind map can be done here.

iThoughtsX app

iThoughtsX also lets you import and export from many of the most popular desktop apps, including XMind and Excel. Like XMind, cloud integration is second to none, and maps can be edited across devices.

MindNode to keep your ideas in all formats 

There’s hardly a better tool for branching out your ideas — especially if you expect to use a brainstorming app on many devices. MindNode allows to store your thoughts in iCloud and access mind maps on any Apple device, including your watch. MindNode makes them look equally beautiful everywhere. Explore in-built brainstorming templates, add stickers to illustrate thoughts, and throw in images. It’s better than words. 

MindNode brainstorming - images

To build logical connections across ideas, you can link items, fold/unfold nodes, and place spotlight on specific branches whenever you need. Another great thing about MindNode is that it allows to take ready-to-use mind maps anywhere. You can export project to PDF, image, even a simple text outline. 

TaskPaper if you brainstorm in words 

Writing brainstorming is not only for writers. We totally support you if you decide to give away all the brainstorming pictures for the sake of a plain page. Apps like TaskPaper come very useful in this regard. If you need not only capture the key ideas, but also expand on them, there’s nothing easier than writing brainstorming. 

Writing brainstorming in TaskPaper app

With TaskPaper on your Mac, you have an outlet for your ideas — no matter how broad they are. Grab a custom stylesheet, type ideas, and let the app apply formatting. 

Focused: just you and your brainwriting.

Sometimes, the birth of an idea requires nothing more than a blank sheet of paper. Be it a page in your notebook or a note in your Focused app.

Focused to brainwriting

Focused is a simple, elegant and essential app that focuses solely on giving you the creative space to brainstorm, gather ideas, and detail thoughts. Notes are easy to create, save, and find to work on.

Try Focused and you'll be falling in love with app's minimalist design and zen-mode - there's nothing to distract you, just you and your minds. 


So get together with friends, use XMind and MindNode to brainstorm, export to iThoughtsX to perfect ideas, and write down the full fleshed out version of what you are trying to create with Focused and TaskPaper. It’s worth to try.

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