11 Brainstorm Diagram Alternatives to Transform How You Spark Ideas in 2024


Lawrence Haywood 04 July, 2024 11 min read

You've probably met the brainstorming brick wall before.

It's that point in a brainstorming session when everyone just falls totally silent. It's a mental block, more than anything, so it might seem like a long, long journey to the fantastic ideas lying just on the other side.

Next time you're there, try a few different brainstorming diagrams. They're the best way to reset the block by addressing the problem from a completely different angle.

They can be the key to unlocking true productivity amongst your team, as well as some bloody good diagram ideas.

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What is a Brainstorm Diagram?

We all know that brainstorming can be an excellent, collaborative tool that encourages discussion and idea generation, but what exactly are brainstorm diagrams?

Brainstorm diagrams are all those different formats of brainstorming, some of which you'll probably know already. Sure, there's the super popular mind mapping, but there are so many others that have the potential to unlock great ideas, especially when you're running a virtual brainstorm.

Ever tried a SWOT analysis? A fishbone diagram? A reverse brainstorm? Using different brainstorming diagrams like these evokes a different way of thinking for you and your team. They help you get around the problem and think about it from a different perspective.

You may or may not have heard of the brainstorm diagrams we've got below, but give each of them a try in your next few meetings. You never know which one could unlock something golden...

A min mapping diagram on Miro.
Brainstorm Diagram - A simple mind-mapping diagram on Miro.
10 Golden Brainstorm Techniques

11 Alternatives to Mind Mapping Diagrams

#1 - Brainwriting

Brainwriting is an excellent alternative brainstorming diagram that encourages independent thought and rapid-fire idea generation. It's great for creating collaborative and diverse sets of ideas quickly. By using it, you can encourage group thought in a way that does not detract from an independent interpretation of a topic or question.

Brainwriting might work well for every one of your team members, even individuals who do not feel confident publicly discussing their ideas. That's because it doesn't require much verbal communication and can still strengthen teamwork.

Here’s how brainwriting typically works:

  1. Propose a question or topic to a group.
  2. Give your group a couple of minutes to independently write down all of the ideas they have on the topic.
  3. Once the time is up, they will pass their ideas on to someone else, who will read the notes and add their own thoughts.
  4. You can repeat this several times.

You may find that reading others' writing, can spark new thoughts and directions, and you can end up with a diverse and varied set of ideas.

There is a variation of this called 6-3-5 brainwriting, which is thought to be the optimal balance for contribution and output for small teams. It involves a team of 6 people generating ideas for 3 minutes, with the cycle being repeated 5 times.

#2 - Question Storming

Sometimes generating specific ideas and answers can be challenging - especially if you’re still in the very early stages of a process.

Question storming (or Q storming) is designed for this exact scenario. With question-storming, people are challenged to come up with questions rather than ideas or answers.

  1. Take a central topic/question or core idea.
  2. As a group (or alone) develop a number of questions that stem from this central idea – this is question storming.
  3. From the developed set of questions, you can then look at solutions or ideas for each one that can often more effectively answer the original question.

Question-storming is an excellent tool for education. It challenges students' knowledge and can encourage wider thinking. The format for question-storming is perfect for collaborative classroom learning and can open up opportunities for fun, alternative ways to use brainstorming in lessons.

You can make use of a free brainstorming diagram maker like AhaSlides to get the whole crew chipping in their questions with their phones. After that, everyone can vote for the best question to answer.

Using AhaSlides' brainstorm slide for class activities.
Brainstorm Diagram - Brainstorming with AhaSlides.

#3 - Bubble Mapping

Bubble mapping is similar to mind mapping or brainstorming, but it offers slightly more flexibility. It is a wonderful tool in schools, where teachers are looking for new ways to help children expand on or explore their vocabulary with games and brainstorming diagrams. 

The main drawback of bubble mapping is that you can find that you drill down on a specific path or idea sometimes too much and you can lose the original focus of the planning. This isn’t always a bad thing if you’re using it for building vocabulary or strategising, but it makes it much less effective for things like essay planning.

A bubble mindmap on Cacoo.
Brainstorm Diagram - A vocabulary bubble map on Cacoo.

#4 - SWOT Analysis

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. S.W.O.T analysis is a key component of the planning and execution of a lot of business processes. 

  • Strengths - These are the internal strengths of a project, product or business. Strengths could include unique selling points (USPs) or specific resources available to you that your competitors do not have.
  • Weaknesses - In business, understanding your internal weaknesses is equally important. What hinders your competitiveness? These could be particular resources or skills. Understanding your weaknesses opens up opportunities to be able to solve them.
  • Opportunities - What external factors could act in your favour? These could be trends, community opinions, local laws and legislation.
  • Threats - What negative external factors could work against your idea or project? Again, these can be general trends, laws or even industry-specific views.

Generally, a SWOT analysis is drawn out as 4 quadrants with one of S, W, O, and T in each. Stakeholders then have a group brainstorm to get down ideas relating to each point. This helps to make both short and long-term strategic decisions. 

SWOT analysis is a staple in any business and can help inform leaders on how to build effective and proper brainstorm diagrams in future planning sessions.

💡 Looking for a free brainstorming template? Check out this free, editable SWOT analysis table.

#5 - PEST Analysis

Whilst a SWOT analysis focuses on both external and internal factors that can impact business planning, a PEST analysis is much more focused on external influences.

Brainstorm Diagram - Image source: SlideModel.
  • Political - What laws, legislations or rulings impact your idea? These could be required standards, licences or laws relating to staffing or employment that need to be considered for your idea.
  • Economical - How do economic factors impact your idea? This can include how competitive the industry is, whether your product or project is seasonal, or even the general state of the economy and whether people are actually purchasing products like yours.
  • Social - Social analysis focuses on society's views and lifestyles and the impact of those on your idea. Are social trends leaning towards your idea? Does the general public have any preferences? Are there any potentially controversial or moral issues that will arise from your product or idea?
  • Technological - Are there any technological considerations? Perhaps your idea could be easily replicated by a competitor, perhaps there are technological barriers to consider.

#6 - Fishbone Diagram/Ishikawa Diagram

A fishbone diagram (or Ishikawa diagram) looks to determine cause and effect related to a specific pain point or problem. Typically, it’s used for finding the root of an issue and generating ideas that can be used to solve it.

Here's how to make one:

  1. Determine the central problem and record it as the "fish head" in the centre-right of your planning area. Draw a horizontal line running from the problem across the rest of the area. This is the “spine” of your diagram.
  2. From this “spine” draw diagonal “fishbone” lines that identify specific causes of the problem.
  3. From your core “fishbones” you can create smaller outer "fishbones," where you can write down smaller causes for each main cause.
  4. Analyze your fishbone diagram and mark any key concerns or problem areas so that you can effectively plan how to address them.
A fishbone diagram template.
Brainstorm Diagram - A fishbone diagram template by Goleansixsigma.

#7 - Spider Diagram

A spider diagram is also quite similar to a brainstorming diagram but can offer a bit more flexibility in its structure. 

It's called a spider diagram because it has a central body (or idea) and several ideas leading from it. In that way, it's pretty similar to a bubble map and a mind map, but it's usually a bit less organised and a bit rougher around the edges.

Many schools and classrooms will use spider diagrams to encourage collaborative thinking and introduce idea and planning techniques to school-aged learners.

#8 - Flow Charts

Brainstorm diagram - Brainstorm Chart, or a Flow chart will be familiar to anyone who has ever needed to plan a project or roadmap. They essentially describe how one task leads to another in a visual way.

Flow charts allow for idea generation and can act as an alternative to brainstorming diagrams. They offer more of a “timeline” structure and clear ordering of tasks.

There are 2 very common uses for flow chart diagrams, one more rigid and one more flexible.

  • Process Flowchart: A process flowchart describes specific actions and the order in which they need to be done. This is typically used to illustrate processes or rigid operational functions. For example, a process flowchart might illustrate the steps needed to make a formal complaint in your organisation.
  • Workflow Chart: Whilst a process flowchart is informational, a workflow diagram is used more for planning and can be more flexible. A workflow or roadmap chart will illustrate the steps that need to be taken for the next stage of a process to begin.

This type of chart is especially common in agencies and development businesses that need to keep track of large scale projects and understand where they are working and what needs to be done to move a project forward.

#9 - Affinity Diagrams

Brainstorm diagram! An affinity diagram is used to collect a large set of ideas, data or information in a more organised way. It is widely used to group data from interviews, focus groups or tests. Think of it as categorising your brainstorming ideas after they have been created.

Affinity diagrams will often follow very fluid and broad brainstorming sessions where lots of ideas have been generated. 

This is how affinity diagrams work:

  1. Record each idea or piece of data individually.
  2. Identify common themes or ideas and group them together.
  3. Find links and relations within groups and file groups together under a bigger “master group”.
  4. Repeat this until the number of remaining top-level groups is manageable.

#10 - Starbursting

Brainstorm diagram! Starbursting is a visualisation of the “5W’s” –  who, when, what, where, why (and how) and is essential for developing ideas on a deeper level.

  1. Write your idea in the centre of a 6-pointed star. In each of the points, write one of the “5W’s + how”.
  2. Linked to each point of the star, write questions led by these prompts that make you look more deeply at your central idea.

Whilst it’s also possible to use starbursting in businesses, it can be extremely handy in a classroom environment. As a teacher, helping students with essay planning and understanding critical analysis, these structured prompts can be essential for helping students engage with, and break down, a question or text.

Image of a starbursting slide on Slidemodel.
Brainstorm Diagram - A starbursting template by SlideModel.

#11 - Reverse Brainstorming

Reverse brainstorming is an interesting one that asks you to think outside of the box a little bit. Participants are challenged to find problems and from them, can devise solutions.

  1. Place the main “problem” or statement in the centre of the planning area.
  2. Write down things that will make or cause this problem, this can be multi-level and range from large to very small factors.
  3. Analyse your completed reverse brainstorming diagram and begin to formulate actionable solutions.
reverse brainstorming from ahaslides

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a brainstorm diagram?

A brainstorm diagram, also known as a mind map, is a visual tool used to organise ideas, thoughts, and concepts in a non-linear way. It helps you explore relationships between different elements and generate new ideas.

What are some brainstorm diagram examples?

Mind map, idea wheel, cluster diagram, flow chart, affinity diagram, concept map, root cause analysis, venn diagram and system diagram.

What tools are used for brainstorming?

There are lots of tools to create one online, including AhaSlides, StormBoards, FreezMind and IdeaBoardz.