Brainstorming has gotten a bad name, at least in its most commonly practiced form: A group of people with a cold start on a problem shout ideas at a whiteboard until the session recorder's writing hand cramps up or everyone's eyes glaze over.

But brainstorming is not the only way to shake loose creative ideas from your team's collective mind. (And the above scenario is not even the best way to brainstorm; most people do better with a more structured approach.)

At my firm, we use a mix of creative strategies—partly to be sure we're looking at a problem from all the angles, and partly so we don't bore ourselves into dull-wittedness. I've outlined five of our favorite exercises in this article.

When we're working on brand story and messaging projects, we use these approaches to uncover core brand elements, reframe concepts for stronger audience appeal, and generate fresh approaches. But these exercises can work with all kinds of communications and business problems.

1. The Take Away

Coco Chanel purportedly advised women to take off at least one piece of jewelry before leaving the house. It's good advice—not just for dressing but also for communicating with power and clarity.

The Take Away is a process of stripping down. We use it to counter the impulse to lay it on heavy, to say everything at once, or to attach distracting baubles to designs or plans.

Say you're developing messaging for a new product, and you have a list of 12 key benefits. Truthfully, they can't all be essential, and you need much more focus to make messages memorable. So, take away a benefit and consider the result: Are you gaining in focus what you lost in comprehensiveness? Keep taking away, stripping away detail until you get to a benefits description that's as simple as it can be while still conveying something meaningful to your audience.

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Sandra Stewart is a principal at Thinkshift Communications, which provides content marketing, messaging, and other strategic marketing services to cleantech and sustainable businesses.

LinkedIn: Sandra Stewart