Brainstorming That Actually Works!

I learned a pretty interesting brainstorming technique at the Net Impact conference that I thought was worth sharing.  The tool is part of IDEO’s “Human Centered Design” toolkit, available for free here:  IDEO Toolkit.  On a side note, IDEO rocks.

IDEO's Sally Madsen talks Human Centered Design at Net Impact 2010


There are seven rules to the brainstorm:

  1. Defer judgment – There are no bad ideas at this point. There will be plenty of time to judge ideas later.
  2. Encourage wild ideas – It’s the wild ideas that often create real innovation. It is always easy to bring ideas down to earth later!
  3. Build on the ideas of others – Think in terms of ‘and’ instead of ‘but.’ If you dislike someone’s idea, challenge yourself to build on it and make it better.
  4. Stay focused on topic – You will get better output if everyone is disciplined.
  5. Be visual – Try to engage the logical and the creative sides of the brain.
  6. One conversation at a time – Allow ideas to be heard and built upon.
  7. Go for quantity – Set a big goal for number of ideas and surpass it! Remember there is no need to make a lengthy case for your idea since no one is judging. Ideas should flow quickly.

The complex question (they call it a design challenge) that you are trying to find innovative solutions for is stated like this: “How Could We (HCW)…?”

They provided tons of colored post-its and markers, and we had at it.  We were working on coming up with some innovative solutions for “Recovery Park” – a Detroit Non-Profit that was attempting to repurpose some abandoned and destroyed land in downtown Detroit by creating an urban farmscape that would provide people that are coming out of institutions with work opportunities.  So the questions were “How Could We: Involve and engage with the existing community?”  “How Could We: Work with local institutions to provide them with food” and so on.

The question is posed to the group, and then you start building on the ideas of other people.  Each person writes down their idea on a post-it and then hands it to the facilitator.  The person that jotted down the idea then tells the story of their idea (briefly).  This has a way of slowing the process down a bit, so that people aren’t just yelling stuff out (I wonder how many great ideas have gotten lost because they were shouted out but not captured in a brainstorm? ) and creates a sort of visual tapestry of ideas.  Very cool.

Having everything on post-its also allows you to move them around and make clusters of ideas and group similar stuff together.

I found this to be an excellent technique.  I actually used it soon after the conference in a meeting that I had with a client who I am helping learn how to use social media in their business.  Our first question was “How Could We: Improve our internal communications” – Which I designed to get the org to start thinking about their entire infrastructure, and determine what they need to fix internally before they can be successful communicating with their customers and stakeholders externally.  We then moved on to some questions that were more directly related to social media stuff.  The technique got rave reviews.  People really liked it, and we got some great ideas for opportunities to develop further in their external marketing and communications efforts.

Do you have any killer brainstorming techniques?