Brainstorming Methods pt. 2: Pain Storming

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Apologies in the delay in writing this next blog post in the Brainstorming Methods series. Without a doubt, I’m sure you have done nothing over the last month but fret over when this would be published. If you’ve not already read my first post in this series, “Innovation by Generalization,” you can find it here.

On with it, then.

I do not know who coined this phrase, or whether it is use widely by anyone in any industry, but I came across the term “pain-storming” while co-facilitating workshops in school over this past semester. My stated apologies if I’m unknowingly infringing on a trademark or some other form of registered IP — I make the lazy practice of not doing any research before I write blog posts; it keeps them original.

What is it?

Essentially, pain-storming is a method of brainstorming problems and pains in an industry, environment, activity, or within a group of people and then generating business ideas that solve those problems. Pain-storming is a very versatile method of brainstorming ideas because it can be used for almost any area, as long as the pain-stormer knows the in’s and out’s well enough to draw from their own experience.

My feeling the need to document this process stems a little bit from my inability to “find things throughout my day that bother me,” to come up with business ideas, as has been recommended to me numerous times. While asking your family and friends to mind their days for things that are inconvenient seems like it is a good idea for finding business opportunity, I have found that most people don’t go through their days present enough to pick out solvable problems within them. And if they do find things that inconvenience them, they are things that haven’t been big enough problems for the individual to look up solutions for before and therefore, not sizable enough problems.

Taking the same problem identification concept, though, pain-storming offers a process for finding pains within many different aspects of one’s day and is inherently more specific to an individual or group of people.


Pain-storming has a specific method, much like the other brainstorming techniques I will write about. The quick of it is to think of a specific subject or area, come up with all the things you hate about that subject/activity/etc., and come up with solutions to those pains.

The steps are outlined in detail below:

1. Pick a specific object or activity

This method, again, can be used to brainstorm around many different things.

You could choose things like hobbies (playing baseball, doing crafts), relationships (talking to your parents, interacting with your grandparents), daily activities (walking your dog, doing the dishes (heck, where do you think the idea for dishwashers came from?)), objects (your phone, your garbage can) or things within your workplace (communication, generational connections). The key here is that is should be some area in which you have experience. Without personal experience and connection to the topic area, you might not have as much success in brainstorming pains and solutions to those pains.

2. Pain-storm

This is the bulk of the pain-storming exercise. Focus in your subject. Think of the in’s and out’s of what it takes to get that activity done. What are the steps you take in that environment? How do you feel about the steps you take? What do you use that object for in your day-to-day life? Once you have thought about the subject in full, think of all the ways that it bothers you on a regular basis.

Some pointers for brainstorming are: Focus in on not the one time that your phone froze on you, but the tantalizing speed in which it dies on you on every single day. Don’t think an irritant is too small for you to use, chances are it’s probably a problem for a lot of other people too. Be sure to write these pains down — you will draw from them in the next step. Post-its are always good to have around when brainstorming, but any paper where you can write quickly and freely will do.

3. Dig a little deeper

You will now have a list of surface level problems around a subject. There is possibility that those problems you experience are not necessarily the root problem, or the true core of what you don’t like about a subject. Explore the pains you came up with. If you can ask “Why?” 3 times and come up with the same answer, you are at the core of the problem.

4. Brainstorm Solutions

Once you have a list well thought out of pains associated with your subject, brainstorm ways to solve those pains. Think about different technologies and processes you can use to improve whatever it is that bothers you. You can try different techniques and constraints to come up with creative solutions as well as drawing from things in other areas that you think might work well to solve this specific problem.

5. Do some research

If you are serious about creating a business around any idea, doing research is mandatory. You will, more likely than not, find that a lot of your solutions for the problems you experience already exist, which is fine. Don’t get discouraged; just see them as validation for your thinking process and judgment of pains that are worth solving.


As stated before, I’ve used this method in numerous classes and workshops that I’ve co-facilitated at school. It works well when people need to come up with quick and easy business ideas without them having to external research on the onset. I’ll run through an example of the method below.

Say, theoretically, I chose moving residences as my topic (something that I did just last week, in fact). I would list out all the things that were pains for me when I moved:

· Moving clothes

· Moving furniture

· Getting Wi-Fi

· Forwarding my address

· Learning a new address

· Meeting new neighbors

· Transferring bills to my name

· Painting my room (just painting in general)

· Decorating

· Learning about a new area

· Finding the closest necessity stores around

· Packing up stuff at my old house

And then, say I choose “decorating” as my overarching pain topic. I’d then dig a little deeper in to what specifically is painful about decorating, as it’s more of a surface-level problem. What I really don’t like about decorating:

· Choosing color schemes

· Buying expensive things that are just for show

· Finding decorations that match perfectly to each other

· Shopping around to a million different stores

· That it, generally, takes time out of my day

So, now that I have a couple in-depth pains, I could brainstorm ways to solve those problems. I could create:

· An online service where you input the colors and patterns you like and where the decorations would go (wall, coffee table, kitchen) and it generates package options for you. It could suggest stores or exactly where you need to go to get the decorations you choose from their platform. Maybe there is an option to ship the full package to you directly.

· A service that interior design university students generate fully decorated mockups of the empty room you send them at a low cost before you even move.

· A simple color scheme generator for the decorations you already have.

· A decoration exchange for people that get tired of having the same decorations all the time — maybe rotates on a bi-annual basis.

Maybe these are not the most viable solutions, maybe some of them exist already, but I think they would be worth looking in to if I really wanted to make decorating an easier process for people, like myself, who don’t like to do it.

Well, I hope you enjoyed hearing about the Pain-Storming Method for brainstorming business ideas. The next blog in this brainstorming series will be about innovating through flipped assumptions — stay tuned!