Free the Genie online is a well-designed and useful brainstorming tool

Idea Champions, developers of the popular Free the Genie brainstorming card deck, recently launched a web-based version of it, with some cool new capabilities. Here's a look at what's notable about Free the Genie online.

Several years ago, Idea Champions launched a brainstorming card deck called Free the Genie that serves as a creative catalyst to help people tap into their latent creativity. The brainchild of Mitch Ditkoff, a prolific writer and well-known creativity expert, Free the Genie was recently launched as an online service, which you can access from any internet-connected computer. In the process or reimagining it as a web application, the Idea Champions team has added some cool new capabilities to Free the Genie.

The online version of Free the Genie adds more of a process orientation to this ideation tool. When you first login to Free the Genie Online, you are greeted by a screen that says “Step 1.” It contains a large, open form field where you can type a detailed description of your problem or challenge. Below that are some tools that include a sample list of questions and challenges, as well as lists of verbs and nouns that you can utilize to help you formulate your challenge statement.

5 ideation “games” draw out your great ideas

Free the Genie onlineStep 2 of Free the Genie online is brainstorming. The colorful screen presents five different “games” you can play with the virtual card deck:

  • Get a random card,
  • Choose your own card,
  • One for now and one for later,
  • Either/or, and
  • What suits you.
  • Random card

Here’s a brief look at each game:

Random card: When you click “random card,” the screen displays one of the cards from the deck, which look identical to those in the offline version. Each card contains a principle of breakthrough thinking and several questions or thought-provoking statements related to it. There are five different types or “suits” of cards: attend, intend, suspend, extend and connect; the top of each Free the Genie card tells you what “suit” it belongs to. Next to the card is a small yellow rectangle that looks like a Post-it note, where you can record any ideas that come to mind after viewing the card. This screen also contains buttons where you can request another random card or proceed to the final step of the ideation process. Other games include:

Choose your own: This game lets you drill down by card suit to a list of all of the cards within it, which are displayed by title only, plus a rectangular shape that looks like a card face down. When you hover over the name of a card, a pop-up of the front side of it appears, giving you a useful preview of each card – a nice touch that enhances the tool’s usability. Clicking on one of the cards displays it side-by-side with your list of ideas.

One for now, one for later: This game displays a single card, along with a form field where you can input your e-mail address. This will cause the Genie to send you a second card at a later time. This could be very useful in generating some valuable ideas, because by the time the second card arrives, you will undoubtedly be in a different state of mind – which may help you to generate some fresh ideas and insights. However, when I tried it, the second card arrived less  than 10 minutes later; I think a longer interval would be more useful. Still, this is a great idea.

Either/or: This game presents two cards side-by-side, and asks you to think about the relationships between the two of them – which you can then apply to your problem or challenge.

What Suits You: This game displays buttons for the five card suits. Clicking one of them displays a random selection of 3 cards from it. The Genie leaves it up to you to decide how to use this trio of inspiring cards.

As you’re playing one of the games in Free the Genie, a narrow vertical pane on the left side of the screen displays a menu of all five games, so you can switch to another one at any time.

Sharing your ideas is easy

Free the Genie onlineThe final step is to send your ideas to yourself via e-mail, so you have a record of your brainstorming session, or send them to others to solicit their feedback. The final screen contains a form, with the current problem or challenge and the ideas you have brainstormed already filled in. It also contains fields where you can your contact information, the reason you’re contacting your colleagues with your ideas, what you want them to do with these ideas, and request a deadline for their feedback. The ideas arrive in a nicely formatted HTML e-mail.

Accessibility from any device is a plus

I was pleased to discover that Free the Genie online is designed using “old school” HTML and form fields. This is refreshing, considering that many web designers seem to be obsessed with creating rich media applications using Adobe’s sexy Flash technology. Free the Genie is low tech and is still very functional – and I mean that as a big positive! That means I was able to access and use Free the Genie online via my iPhone’s Safari browser without any problems.

Why is this important? You ought to be able to engage in an impromptu brainstorming session any time, anywhere, and I’m pleased to see that Idea Champions has selected a basic technology platform that makes it play well in almost any internet-connected device.

Support tools

To help you use the Free the Genie online tool, subscribers can access to instructions on how to use it, a brief explanation of the five card suits and some additional creativity catalysts to tickle your muse. A leader’s guide is also provided, which offers suggestions on how to use Free the Genie at conferences and meetings, live brainstorming sessions, online ideation events, client/customer relationship building events and one-on-one coaching. This appears to be the document that Idea Champions originally developed for the offline card deck. While it’s not specifically tailored to the online version of Free the Genie, you may find some food for thought here; it contains numerous suggestions on how to use this ideation tool in your work and life.

What does it cost?

A one-year subscription to this well-designed online ideation tool is US$36.50 – just a little over US$3 per month. Group discounts are also available, if you’d like to make Free the Genie online available to your work team. In addition, for a limited time, you can “name your price” for a 90-day subscription – a clever way to encourage you to try it out. In any case, Free the Genie is an excellent value; just one good idea, and this ideation tool will pay for itself many times over.


If you’ve been on the fence about investing in creativity tools, because you were unsure what you would get for your money, now is the time to dive in and give Free the Genie a try. Its playful user interface will have you generating fresh ideas in no time. I also like its emphasis on ideations “games,” which help to put me in a playful state of mind, essential to creativity

Idea Champions provides an excellent sampling of cards from the deck on its website, so you can see exactly what you’re going to get if you sign up for a subscription. And the 90-day “name your price” deal makes it even easier to try out Free the Genie to see if it meets your needs.

The Free the Genie card deck is still available, too. You can find more details about it on the Idea Champions website. In addition, I have written a review of it, which you can access here.

In closing, I think Idea Champions’ decision to convert its creativity product into an online tool is a wise one, because it should expose Free the Genie to many more people. It’s also nice to know that it’s only a few mouse clicks away, whenever you need it – unlike a card deck, which you must remember to take with you. This is an excellent brainstorming tool, and I strongly encourage you to take a look at it.