Uh-oh.  You need to cross a creek, but you don't have a boat or anything!  It's time to brainstorm!  No, this doesn't mean that lightning will be flashing through your head . . . although it may feel that way sometimes.  It means that you're going to sit down and think about the best way to do something.  In this case, cross a creek.  You might think this is simple.  All you have to do is sit down and think, right?  Well, yes.  There are also a few steps which, if you follow, will help you come up with much better ideas.  These steps can help that lightning to strike in your head . . . and help you get across the creek. 

It's time to start coming up with ideas.  If you are anything like me, you might sit down to come up with ideas and find your head is empty!  That's fine!  Just write down the first thing that comes out of your head.  Ideation is when you come up with a lot of new ideas.  In this early stage, no idea is bad!  Think of the most crazy and different ideas you can.  You can leap from rock to rock!  Or tie some leaves to your shoes and hope to float!  No idea is bad because you aren't trying them yet! 

Quick note: You do no always wan to go forward with the very first idea you have.  (Otherwise, your shoes may get very wet.)  Come up with a whole bunch of ideas first, just in case you can think of something better.  You can always come back to that first idea!  
An idea!
Matt Wynn/Flickr.com

If you are still drawing a blank, you should work with other people.  Your friends or teachers or family may have crossed their own creeks in the past.  They might have some great ideas and they might share with you.  One really important part of sharing ideas is to make sure people feel good and are happy to share them.  Tell people they are doing a great job and thank them!  Positive feedback is when someone tells you what they like about your idea.  Even if there are parts of an idea you do not like, tell them about the parts you do like.  This lets you hold on to the good stuff and throw away the bad stuff without getting anyone's feelings hurt!  The better people feel about their ideas, the more ideas people will have and more open they will be to sharing.  Say things like "I really like this part of your idea ..." and "Thank you for sharing!" 

Now it's time to step it up.  It's time to come up with some ideas you wouldn't usually come up with.  Thinking outside the box means you try to think of things that have never been done before.  This is much harder than it sounds.  Remember, these ideas still have to WORK.  It's ok to have really crazy ideas, because sometimes those are the ones that work.  Okay, let's see . . . you ride a manatee across or dig an underground tunnel . . .  Hmm.  Those may not work for this creek, but they are still great ideas.  The best part about crazy ideas is they may help another person to see the problem in a different way.  Someone else may get an idea from yours that is easier to make.  

All this thinking outside the box might get a little crazy!  What were we talking about again?  Right!  Brainstorming!  One way that helps people to think of ideas that work is to find problems that other people have solved that might be similar to yours.  What else have people done to get from one place to another?  An analogy is when you compare two things that work in similar ways.  Sometimes we can use this in order to help explain something.  For now, we'll use this to see if there are other ways people have solved a similar problem.  So let's see . . . crossing a creek is like crossing a road . . . only wetter.  It's kind of like climbing a tree . . . only sideways.  Shoot.  None of this is helping, is it?  
Think outside the...well...you know.

Maybe you should just give up.  You don't really have to cross that creek anyway.  You just wanted to see what was on the other side.  Or, wait!  Maybe you can look up the ways other people have crossed creeks.  After all, people have been crossing creeks since they first walked the Earth.  They must have better ideas.  Existing solutions are ideas and things that people have already used to solve problems.  Sometimes the best way to solve something is not a new idea.  It's an idea that has been around for a very long time.  Look things up on the Internet!  Read a book!  Ask your friends!  There are lots of places you can find solutions that people had before you tried. 

You might think that brainstorming is just about sitting down and coming up with random ideas.  But there's a lot more to it than that.  First, it's smart to come up with lots of ideas.  This is called ideation.  It helps to bounce these ideas off of other people, but be sure to give you positive feedback, telling them things like "great job" and what you like about their ideas!  Thinking outside the box can help because it means you are trying to come up with ideas no one has ever thought of before.  If those do not work, you can try to think of an analogy, which is a way of comparing what you are doing to something else that is similar.  If you cannot come up with your own ideas, you can always look to existing solutions, which are things people have done in the past.  Oh, look.  Someone came up with the idea of tying plastic bags around their shoes so they can just walk across the creek without getting their shoes wet.  So long as the idea works in the end, you do not need to feel bad that you did not come up with it.  
Feedback - it works!


Science Buddies.  "Brainstorming Multiple Solutions"  sciencebuddies.org, 2013.  <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/engineering-design-process/alternative-solutions.shtml#howtocreatemult...>