Brainstorming that Works Requires Two Sessions

The thing I hate about brainstorming is the lack of follow through.

Brainstorming, without follow through, is an irritating braindrizzle.

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The challenge:

Nothing kills a “what might we do” conversation more than adding “how might we do it.”

Brainstorming begins with a commitment to inaction.

Divide and conquer:

Successful brainstorming requires two meetings.

The first meeting is a “What might we do” meeting. The second is a “How might we do it” meeting.

Separate “What” from “How” to maximize creativity and follow through.

Day one:

  1. Limit the focus of your first session to one important question.
  2. Create focus by explaining what you aren’t doing.
  3. Focus on “what” not “how.” Let your team know that the “How” conversation is next week.

Brainstorm in small groups:

#1. Form small groups, but stay in the same room so people can hear each other. Set a limit of five for each group.

Small groups create environments of participation and ownership.

#2. Give each group seven minutes to brainstorm around the question.

#3. When seven minutes are up, have each small group report their results to.

#4. Send everyone back to their small group for another short brainstorming session. Give them six minutes to extend their list of ideas. Report and record results.

A feeling of competition between groups keeps creative juices flowing.

#5. Include everyone in a ten minute brainstorming session.

  1. Don’t defend any ideas.
  2. Protect against the “How.”
  3. Celebrate wacky ideas.

Several short bursts of creativity are better than one long.


Send everyone away with a simple assignement, “Choose five ideas and write three ways they might work.”

Day two:

  1. Record the ideas that each person chose to expand.
  2. Watch for over-lap.
  3. Choose the top three ideas. Ask, “What’s the next step?”
  4. Look for someone to champion each idea.
  5. Define what follow through looks like.

What strategies make brainstorming successful?

**This post is inspired by a coaching call I had yesterday. We discussed, “UNSTRUCTURED BRAINSTORMING IS AN OFFENSE TO CREATIVITY.”

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