December 21, 2017 • 5 minute read • by Saeed
“To be creative, lose the fear of being wrong.” ~ Unknown
As the saying goes, two heads are better than one.
At its most basic level, brainstorming is a method and approach often used for problem solving. It encourages people to come up with thoughts and ideas. Some of these ideas can be crafted into original, creative solutions to a problem, while others can spark even more ideas. This helps to get people unstuck by “jolting” them out of their normal ways of thinking.
It Starts with Asking The Right Questions
The general process is for the meeting facilitator to post a single open-ended and strategically focused question to help participants understand and explore a given topic. Part of the power of questions is that they don’t just seek information, but lead to the co-creation of knowledge. Therefore, open-ended questions that invite people to think deeply about their experiences and the world around them are important for opening up conversations and learning. Conversely, how a question is framed can limit the range of responses to provide and lead to a pre-determined answer.
The focus on asking the right questions in strategic planning settings arises from the belief that questions can be transformational, in the sense that they introduce “alternative possibilities, theories and views of the world. Without the right questions, you cannot get the right answers. Open questions are ones that start with what, where, when, how, and who. Closed questions are less useful because they only promote a “yes” or “no” response.
Taking Brainstorming to the Next Level
But good participatory design would indicate that there is more than just asking the right question and letting everyone call out their responses. Rapid fire brainstorming within time limitations can help generate ideas quickly, because you don’t have time to filter or over-think each one. But if you have more time and you want to provide a little more structure to your brainstorming, try the technique below to help you organize the rapid ideation and create actionable strategy from your session.
1. Brainstorm in layers – Start with silent individual brainstorming, and then ask participants to select their personal favorites to share in a small group. Ask small groups to agree on a specified number of distinct ideas to print clearly onto large cards, one idea per card. Invite the small groups to share their answers with the whole group by gradually calling for the cards. As you read each card aloud, show it to the group and post it on the front wall. Make sure to get equal numbers of cards from all the small groups.
2. Cluster ideas – When there are about 15 cards on the wall, ask the group to create pairs of cards with similar intent (for added visual impact, use the ‘sticky wall’ and colored paper). Move cards with similar ideas together, first in pairs, then in larger groupings, or clusters. Ask each small group to hand up additional cards, a few at a time, until you have all the cards from all the groups. By the last round, most of the remaining cards will contain ideas similar to those already clustered, and the group can easily identify where to place them.
3. Name the clusters – After all the cards are placed on the wall in clusters or columns, give each cluster a 3-5 word title that answers the focus question (e.g. improved customer service).
4. Confirm the resolve – After naming all the clusters, review the titles to ensure clarity. Discuss the overall impact the ideas will have, and confirm that they represent the consensus of the whole group. Gain commitment on immediate next steps.
One Final word…
Brainstorming is a tried and true method, especially in the early stages of a product or a company’s growth, to bring together a wide range of viewpoints. It’s a quick way to generate a large quantity of ideas; instead of just one or two. A group effort can exponentially increase the number of ideas and the technique above can help organize them. During brainstorming sessions, avoid criticizing or rewarding ideas. This tends to shut people’s thinking down. Instead, try to open up possibilities and to bring out creativity on the part of group members. Judgment and analysis at this stage stunts idea generation and limits creativity. Allow everyone to have a say. Facilitate the session so that the people who are quiet have equal time in the spotlight as those who have the tendency to dominate discussions. Just as with other collaborative meeting techniques, be the ‘guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.’
Wait! Before you go…
Why would you follow me?
I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.
I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.
Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.
©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.