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A 3-Step Guide to Using ChatGPT for Brainstorming

Updated: Jan 7

Imagine you need to come up with a new marketing campaign, fresh ideas to expand your product line, or even creative ways to celebrate your anniversary. The traditional approach to cracking these sorts of problems is to corral a bunch of humans in a room--or onto a Zoom call--for some brainstorming.

While there are plenty of tricks and techniques to try and make these sessions more productive, a large body of evidence shows that most of the time traditional brainstorming simply doesn't work very well. Studies show that most people are just too shy to shout out wacky ideas in front of a group of colleagues--or that they get drowned out by loudmouths.

A brainstorming buddy who's immune to embarrassment

But you know who is full of crazy ideas and completely immune to shame? A.I.-powered chatbots. Which is why innovative teams have long been experimenting with these tools to generate ideas and nudge their thinking toward unexplored avenues. Most of what these tools spit out will either be boring or absolutely bonkers, but their very disregard for truth and common sense can be a huge advantage in the idea-generation stage of the creative process.

The launch of vastly more powerful bots like ChatGPT-4 has supercharged this experimentation: An incredible number of marketers, creatives, and other makers have been sharing suggestions for how to use this technology to supercharge your creativity and productivity. Lots of these ideas take the form of specific prompts to try, but a recent Wired article from Reece Rogers takes a more all-purpose approach.

In the piece, Rogers offers a useful step-by-step guide to using ChatPGT for brainstorming. If you're not familiar with the limitations of these tools--such as their tendency to "hallucinate" and occasionally say very creepy things--it's worth reading Rodger's complete piece for important background info. But here is the basic advice:

1. Identify your core question

Even the best A.I. tool in the world can't help you if you don't know exactly what you want help with. While good brainstorming should lead you down unexpected paths, you need to start with a firm idea of the problem you're trying to solve or the idea you're looking to explore. "A good brainstorm still starts with a strong premise," insists Rogers.

2. Be persistent

A.I. isn't all that different from regular old human intelligence in one key way--it's likely to come up with the most obvious ideas first. The goal in using these tools, however, is to nudge us toward unexpected ideas. To do that, you're probably going to need to be persistent.

"Ask the same question over and over again, with small tweaks, to see how the chatbot responds. The more you ask, the more likely you are to come across a response that sticks out as novel or especially helpful," Rogers suggests. You can also ask for more context around any idea that strikes your interest. If things get too crazy--or creepy--just start another session.

3. Try asking for lists

Quantity is the name of the game in brainstorming. More ideas generally means more creativity and a better outcome, even if the vast majority of suggestions are crazy non-starters. That's why asking your A.I. brainstorming buddy for lists can be so productive.

"Even though aspects of a chatbot's answer might be rote and uninspired, if you take the time to browse through multiple lists from the chatbot, you may catch a glimmer of something you could make your own," says Rodgers, who also suggests explicitly asking for lists of weirder or more creative ideas if you're unimpressed with the bot's first efforts.

The responses may sometimes be bizarre or hilarious. But science shows laughter actually loosens us up and helps the ideas flow, so even the craziest suggestions could prove useful.

Exactly how business owners and other professionals will end up using these technologies is still very much an open question. But that doesn't mean you can't start using them right now as a brainstorming buddy to help you break out of your usual thinking and find more creative solutions to everyday problems.


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