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Simple brainstorming technique

If you are anything like me, you will have attended many brainstorming sessions that have gone horribly wrong where:

  • people position themselves before the brainstorming in an effort to establish some credibility ( in my experience the largest time consumer)
  • someone has dominated the session with their diatribe
  • it has deteriorated into a session of I am right and you are wrong and it turned out that they were saying the same thing, just a little differently
  • people were so intimidated that they did not contribute
  • people belittle the ideas thrown up

I have always found it surprising that folks do not understand that brainstorming is all about getting as many ideas out.  The evaluation of the ideas comes later. In an effort to get ideas out quickly and without most of the preamble, here is a mechanism that is quick and fair.

Necessary stationary supplies

  • Sharpies or pen (I use Sharpies because this helps limit the number of words and makes the writing visible)
  • Post-it Pads (small sheets of paper can also be used)

the Rules

  1. one idea per sheet (ideally max.3 words)
  2. do not discuss what you write down
  3. have fun
  4. respect all ideas
  5. do not judge (especially your own ideas)
  6. think outside the box
  7. ideas can be added at any time time during the session (especially the discussion)

Instructions for the Brainstorming session

  1. Ensure that everyone understands the brainstorming topic.
  2. Ensure that everyone has at least one Sharpie and at least one Post-it pad.  If you have multiple colors of the pens and/or pads, then it helps to provide extras so that it is not obvious which ideas came from a single person.
  3. Now, everyone needs to write their brainstorming suggestion on the post-it sheets using a Sharpie.  One idea per page and no more than three words to explain the idea / suggestion.
  4. As the folks complete writing down all of their ideas, stick them up on a board / wall.
  5. Now group the similar ideas together.
  6. Now discuss all of the ideas and as the facilitator it is your responsibility not to belittle any idea or person.

Helpful Hints

  • To help the folks in the group that need time to think and process, it is advisable to include the brainstorming topic in the meeting invitations.
  • Provide a link to these instructions as part of the advanced notification.
  • Do not shoot the messenger!  Brainstorming is all about getting the most hair brained ideas out.  Remember that you crazy idea can stimulate someone elses’ thinking that results in that killer idea.
  • In the 30 plus sessions that I  have used this technique, there are always a clear set of ideas that are similar.  The ideas can now be evaluated on the merits of the idea and not who’s idea it is.


When time is a factor, I have done steps 1 to 4 at one meeting, shorted the ideas out off line and then conducted the discussion at another meeting.

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