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How to Brainstorm (According to Mark Rober)

Coming up with a project to work on is hard. Coming up with ideas that people will like is harder.

Coming up with ideas that you're excited to work on and people will like? Basically impossible.

Luckily, Mark Rober has come up with a step by step process of how to brew up, evaluate, and ideate on potential project ideas.

Who is Mark Rober?

Mark Rober is a former NASA engineer, and former Apple Engineer with a penchant for creating viral, engineering based, YouTube videos. He currently has over fifteen MILLION subscribers on YouTuber.

With his cumulative 1.5+ billion views, he definitely has done something right when it comes to creating interesting content - which is exactly what he teaches us about in his Monthly course. I had the pleasure of attending, and am excited to share some of what I learned!

The Process

Mark utilizes a 4 step process when creating builds and projects:

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Research
  3. Prototype
  4. Final Build

This article specifically focuses on brainstorming - to learn about the rest, check out Mark's course!


Diamond Shape

If we were to give a shape to your brainstorming experience, it'd be the one above. Narrow at the top, wide in the middle, and narrow again at the bottom. This represents the scope of how your idea will occur - you start thinking narrowly, get really broad, and then narrow everything back down again.

Setting Up For Success

It's pretty overwhelming to sit down and decide you're going to do something. What are you going to do? What are you not going to do? In the world, there are infinite possibilities, and that's definitely overwhelming.

It's the experience of analysis paralysis.

To beat analysis paralysis, you have to give yourself some constraints - things to help limit your scope and narrow the focus of what you're working on. Creating constraints give you context about what you're working on. You can then use the constraints to ask questions about your project and narrow it down more.

Hmmm... I want to do a project about food. I love food! Should I make it electrical or mechanical? Definitely mechanical. What action about food should I focus on? Eating!

Now it's clear you're working on a project about food, a project that utilizes mechanical engineering, and should involve the process of eating.


Mark utilizes a 3 step process of brainstorming.

  1. Think of some scenes
  2. Think of some problems in those scenes
  3. Think of solutions to the problems in those scenes

Scenes are situations where you would interact or do said thing - any environment is okay! Problem wise, ask yourself, what kind of issues arise in those scenes. What problems would you face? And finally, ask yourself how you could solve those problems. Be sure to write down all ideas for each step before moving onto the next step. Also, time box the process if you desire - give yourself 10 minutes to think of scenes, 10 minutes to think of problems, and then 10 minutes to think of solutions.

What's most important here is that you do not shut down any thoughts or trains of thoughts. Instead, accept it as a possible solution and move on. Even though you might think it's an unfeasible idea now, it can be the stepping stone to your final solution.

Mark highly recommends getting physical - write these down, take up space, and engage your hands.

Child pointing at post-it notes on wall, source

In this image you can see a young kid utilizing sticky notes to write out the brainstorming process, just as Mark demonstrates in his class. They started writing out the all scenes (red), then put the problems for each scene under(orange), and possible solutions for each problem (yellow)

Down Selecting

When it comes to making compelling projects, storytelling is key. Mark's final goal with his builds is to create a viral video. What is your final goal? Create a series of questions around that final goal to help refine your final choice.

For creating engaging builds, Mark stresses that story is key - creating engaging content requires good story telling. Your story should create a visceral/emotion response, that engages the person viewing your solution. Another key to making an engaging build is necessity - you should be compelled to want this project. As the old proverb says "necessity is the mother of invention" and since your final build is something that you need, it makes your project relatable, and gives your build personality.

Mark likes to ask the following questions when narrowing down and picking a solution to work on.

  • Is it creatively inspiring to you?
  • Is it story worthy?
  • Are there good plot points?
  • Is there enough meat to the story?
  • Can you add a personal twist?
  • Does it fit the constraints?

Review all of your solutions, answer the questions, and pick the one that is most exciting to you. If you have more than one solution you're compelled to work on, that's great! You now have your next project.

Let's get to work!

Now, you should have an engaging and interesting project you're excited to work on. I hope that you, the reader, go through this brainstorming process. Please! Please! Share your projects here on the Reliquary - I look forward to seeing them all!

Discussion (2)

chetan11dev profile image

The reason the above process does work for actual product building is it gives a clear structure and direction to achieving your goal. The more clearly you can see the problem and its solution the more inspired you are at working on it.

I will follow your process and will update the answer.

chetan11dev profile image

I am applying the above principles little by little
While working on my software what I do is time limit the task from which I had benefited.