Innovate or perish. In any fast-changing industry, idea generation isn’t a luxury; it’s a survival skill. Done right, brainstorming sessions help get concepts flowing and bring team members together for new projects.
But what if you can’t get everyone in the same room — or even the same time zone? What if you’re working alone?
Here are four mobile apps for better brainstorming in virtually any situation:
1. Creative Whack Pack (iOS; $1.99) — This is a digital version of Roger von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack card deck (a spinoff product for his classic book on creativity, A Whack on the Side of the Head.) Each virtual “card” offers an illustrated creativity strategy aimed at stimulating thinking and “whacking” you out of your habitual thought patterns. “We love this app and use it often to gain a fresh perspective on a challenge,” says Keith Harmeyer, a partner at New York-based SmartStorming, a consulting firm that focuses on brainstorming and creative thinking.
2. IdeaDeck (iOS; free basic version, $9.99 premium) — Think of IdeaDeck as the virtual equivalent of Post-its, a popular tool for brainstorming sessions. “It allows the user to create and categorize notes (called ‘cards’), package them in groups, move, combine, edit, and eliminate — everything you do with sticky notes in a brainstorm session,” Harmeyer says.
3. SimpleMind+ (Android, iOS; free basic version, $4.99 to 6.99 premium) — “Mind mapping” is a popular technique for coming up with new ideas, and there are dozens of apps out there for creating mind maps on your smartphone. This one is Harmeyer’s favorite. “It’s very easy to use, and comes in free and paid versions,” he says. “It can also sync your mind maps with SimpleMind desktop.”
4. MindMeister (Android, iOS; free basic; $4.99-$14.99 per month premium; pictured) is another popular mind mapping and brainstorming app. Its maker claims that more than 300 million ideas have been generated by individuals and businesses using MindMeister. You can create, view, and edit mind maps online or offline, and share mind maps directly from the device, inviting users via email.
One advantage of using a mobile app for brainstorming is that you’ll end your brainstorming session with a digital record of all the ideas that came up, notes Beth Kahlich, a digital marketing consultant in Dallas. “If you’ve recorded all the ideas on a piece of paper or a whiteboard, you have to start over after the session,” she says. (Or try to snap a picture of it.)
One disadvantage: Apps can facilitate brainstorming, but Harmeyer cautions that truly successful brainstorming requires a skillful leader who knows how to guide a group’s efforts. That’s one of the “Three Pillars of Brainstorming Success” he says he plans to cover in the upcoming book SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Unleashing the Creative Genius of Any Group (due out in 2013).