In brainstorming, 39 is a powerful number

In brainstorming, 39 is a powerful number
July 28, 2022 Beth Nyland

A decade ago, I accidentally invented a brainstorming rule.

Scratch that. The only “rule” in brainstorming is that no idea is a bad idea. Otherwise, no rules. So, what should we call this thing that isn’t a rule? Is it a concept? A theory? A principle? A technique? A strategy?

^^^ That right there is exactly what I was doing when I stumbled upon the Power of 39. (That’s what we call it, by the way: a power!)

Here’s what happened.

I was brainstorming names for a client’s program. They wanted a distinctive brand—a name with just the right zing to capture interest and really say something. And for that, they’d pinned their hopes on me and my word-nerd mind.

So, I set about brainstorming. The first dozen ideas came fast.

“Cool,” I thought, “I’ll just narrow this list to three and give the client some options.”

Maybe not. Reviewing my work, I had to be honest. My output wasn’t all that innovative. In that short list of 12 ideas, the quality was … well … meh.

I pushed back from my desk, brewed a fresh pot of tea, and returned.

I needed to dig deep.

“I am going to crank out 100 ideas,” I told myself. “With that many options, I know I can strike creative gold.”


Even caffeinated, my mental gears ground to a miserable halt. That grand goal intimidated my imagination to a standstill.

Sh*t. I walked away, frustrated.

Sleep does wonders. The next morning, I woke and considered a new target.

“How about 50?” I wondered.

My intuition shot back: “That’s not weird enough.”


Yeah, I talk to myself. So what? You probably do, too. Though maybe you don’t repeat the dialogue in print. Anyway …

I listened to my intuition and chose a weirder number: 39.

Back at my desk with yet another pot of tea, I pulled a few sheets of scrap paper from the recycle bin, wielded my orange Sharpie, and set about brainstorming. I was determined to generate 39 ideas.

I got going quickly. As before, the first few ideas were rather obvious and ordinary. Then I stalled somewhere between 20 and 25—but not for long. Once I got rolling again, some of my thoughts were laugh-out-loud outrageous. But they were mixed with a few that felt clever, promising, and downright original.

I wrote the 39th idea, set down my Sharpie, and reached for my mug. It was still more than half-full, and the tea was still hot.

My client received three excellent brand ideas, and I had a new power for my creative practice: the Power of 39.

The Power of 39 works. Every time.

In the past 10 years, I’ve used the Power of 39 myself, with a partner, in small teams and big groups, and in ballrooms full of people. We’ve brainstormed to get people talking, to invent new plans, to bust out of ruts, and to solve real problems. We always hit the target, and we always find some fun in the process.

So, whether you’re brainstorming solo or with a group, come up with 39 ideas. Aiming for this quantity is sure to move you into that creative territory where “OMG-that’s-ridiculous” collides with “holy-crap-that-just-might-work.”

Our Story Mode clients have used the Power of 39 to name magazines, rethink email subject lines, define meaningful target markets, and so much more.

The Power of 39 will work for you, too. Try it today. And if you’re not sure what to brainstorm, here’s a list to get you thinking.

39 Ways to Use the Power of 39

1. Action verbs
2. Blessings
3. Board games
4. Books you’ve read
5. Books you’ve never read
6. Breakfast foods
7. Calls to action
8. Candy bars
9. Careers
10. Childhood memories
11. Colors
12. Customer needs
13. Date night ideas

14. Emotions
15. Favorite brands
16. Gift ideas
17. Headlines
18. Heroes
19. Hiding places
20. Ice cream flavors
21. Interview questions
22. Investment options
23. Mascots
24. Metaphors
25. Movies
26. Names for a pet iguana

27. Outfits
28. Performers to see
29. Pet peeves
30. Replacements for swear words
31. Restaurants
32. Spokespeople
33. Theme songs
34. Uses for a shoebox
35. Vacation spots
36. Venues
37. Villains
38. Ways to make chicken
39. Worries


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