When I first started facilitating brainstorms, you could describe them in three ways: big, formal and scheduled.
Now, brainstorms are impromptu gatherings in a hallway or at a side table, people are chosen by random selection, and we’re together for no longer than 30 minutes.
If you’ve never tried this type of ‘creativity in a flash,’ or want some tips to improve your next one, here’s some instructions and helpful tips for faster brainstorming.
1. Create a simple brief – one page or less – that includes these points:
- What’s the (business) objective?
- Who’s the target audience?
- What’s the primary problem to overcome?
- Here’s one or two key insights to consider
2. Invite 3-4 people to join you around a flipchart or a pad of paper which everyone can see. Use an empty conference room or a table in your offices. Or, why not go somewhere else, if not outside to a nearby café?
3. Start with 30 seconds of background. Use the brief, but don’t over-explain.
4. Launch into a simple ice-breaker.
5. Go! Write down ideas! Have fun!
6. Ta-da! You’re finished in 15 minutes. Tell people if they have ideas later on to come back to you.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
One reason why I like this style of brainstorming is its flexibility to start another brainstorm in a few minutes. I’ve packed as many as six brainstorms into one day, grabbing up people as they’re free, or if they need a bit of a mental break from their other work. f you don’t get your idea in one brainstorm, you’ll likely get it in the next. Or, use the next brainstorm to refine and enhance the ideas from the first.
This style is particularly good for small departments. If you don’t have loads of people to tap for brainstorms, you can work with just 1-2 people, then go to two others … and if you need to go back to the same people, the topic or the focus on subsequent brainstorms might be so much that it’ll be a new brainstorm for them.
Tapping Into Unconscious Thinking
Another reason to like this style is its inherent way of stimulating “unconscious thinking.” Your brain continues to think about something even if you don’t realize that it is. There’s a chance that you – or one of your brainstormers – will walk away from your 15-minute brainstorm and think of an idea later – even tomorrow.
Do you care if the idea comes out in the brainstorm? You shouldn’t. You should only care that whenever someone has an idea, they know there’s a place to capture the idea. That’s another reason why I suggest people hang the flipcharts in a public space. Tell brainstorm alumni to add ideas as they think of them. I also hang up the one-page brief and invite anyone who walks by to add ideas. Who knows when someone – anyone? – will think of an idea?
One time our client came to the office and we showed them our ‘ongoing’ brainstorm. He loved the idea, and even contributed to it on the spot. He then called me the next day with another idea. This client was also the type who was generally extremely negative in brainstorms, so this was an ideal way to engage him in the brainstorm process, but separate him from the actual brainstorm.