Conducting a Brainstorm

Create a productive and prosperous brainstorming environment

Holding a brainstorm isn't unique, holding a productive brainstorm is. Great brainstorms are ones that set the stage for fresh and generative thinking through simple guidelines and an open and collaborative environment. Use this when you're just kicking-off a new project and want to hit the ground running with big ideas that will move your team forward.


Start with the right question(s)

Good brainstorms have clear, generative questions, often framed as a "How might we..." question. To help set the focus of your session, consider setting aside time pre-brainstorm to write out "How might we..." questions using the template provided. If needed, The Ladder of Abstraction can be a helpful tool for understanding how to broaden or focus your brainstorming topic to maximize session efficiency.

Bring the right people to the table

Traditionally brainstorms happen amongst the core project team only, but that can sometimes lead to tunnel vision. To avoid this, consider looping in colleagues outside of your core team that can bring a diversity of experience and insight into the brainstorming process.


Choose your best "How might we..." Questions

Share the top five brainstorm questions that you created and let the group determine where to begin based on what seems to be the most promising for idea generation in the areas you are trying to impact.

Set the stage for creativity and inclusivity

Go over the brainstorming rules and keep them in front of your team while brainstorming to encourage collaboration, optimism and creativity.

Brainstorming Rules:

  • Encourage wild ideas. (If none of the ideas sound a bit ridiculous, then you are filtering yourself too much.)
  • Defer judgment. (This can be as direct as harsh words or as subtle as a condescending tone or talking over one another.)
  • Build on the ideas of others. ("I want to build on that idea" or the use of "yes, and...")
  • Stay focused on the topic at hand.
  • Have one conversation at a time.
  • Be visual. (Draw and upload and/or show ideas whenever possible.)
  • Go for quantity.

Start out solo

Have each participant begin by silently brainstorming ideas and placing them into the "solo brainstorm space" within the template provided. This "silent-storming" avoids group-think and creates an inclusive environment for introverts and extroverts alike. Set a time limit. Encourage people to go for quantity. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, brainstorming is an instance where quantity actually leads to quality.

Brainstorm as a group

Have everyone move their ideas into the "group sharing space" within the template and have the team silently read through them. As a team, sort and group them by thematic topics or similarities. Discuss and answer any questions that arise. Encourage "Yes, and…" and build on the ideas of other people along the way.


Vote and determine next steps

Use Dot Voting to select the ideas that seem most promising based on your criteria. As a team, decide together what the best next steps should be. Do additional people need to be in the room? Are there better questions to ask? Is more sorting or prioritization needed? Are there ideas to test using Rapid Experimentation?

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