Some people just hate shouting out ideas in a group. If you need quantity and creativity, and to make sure the quiet thinkers contribute their ideas too, this alternative to the traditional brainstorm is my new go-to technique.
We want the quiet people’s ideas too!
I was facilitating a short session for a local choir leader, on how to get more singers to come along. We met in a room with nowhere to hang flip chart paper on the walls, and I knew that some of the participants find loud, fast conversation excruciating. So we brainstormed like this:
Slips of paper
Cauldron (or any similar large container)
Question written up clearly where everyone could see it
We began with introductions, food and confirming the aim of the session - to generate ideas, not allocate actions.
I asked people to share in pairs their experience of being in a choir - or, if they have never been in a choir, being a part of something that feels a bit like a choir. For me, as a terrible singer, my ‘similar’ was being part of a volunteer squad doing physical work like gardening.
When we’d settled in a bit and reminded ourselves about choirs and choir-like experiences, we began the brainstorm.
Paper and pens
Everyone had four pieces of paper and a pen. I invited everyone to come up with four ideas which would help more people sing in the choir. One should be ‘blindingly obvious, hardly worth writing down’, one should be ‘a crazy idea but it just might work’, and two could be anywhere between those. I wanted to free people up to offer ideas rather than self-censor.
The ideas all went into the cauldron and were stirred around.
People then picked out an idea, lucky dip style, and also took a fresh piece of paper. If they liked the idea they had picked out, they were invited to write a new idea that built on it, on the new paper. If they hated the idea, they were invited to find something in it that they did like, and write a new idea which was based on that but without the aspects that put them off the idea they had picked, on a new piece of paper.
All the ideas went back into the pot.
We then had five ideas from each person. If you have time and the energy seems right, you could ask people to generate additional ideas. We felt we had enough quantity. Now we moved on to understanding the quality of the ideas.
Inspired by the 25/10 crowdsourcing method from Liberating Structures, we divided the ideas between everyone and they were scored from 1 (poor) to 5 (great). At this stage, a few more ideas occurred and they were written down on spare paper and added to the mix. When one person had scored their random pack of ideas, they passed it on to the person to their left. This happened a few times until each idea had been scored by four people, which we felt was enough to get a sense of priority.
I asked people to look through the ideas they had ended up with, to see which had full marks (20 out of 20). There were a couple. These were read out one by one and we discussed each one for a few minutes: what was appealing about the idea, and how it might be put into practice. We had time to do this with ideas which had scored 19 - 16 too.
If needed, and the group has time and energy, this could continue with ideas with lower levels of support: anything over 12 must have been scored 4/5 by at least one person, and might be worth discussion.
Why do it this way?
The benefits of this way of doing things are:
everyone’s ideas get put into the mix.
it doesn’t privilege people who are comfortable shouting out in groups.
the ideas get written in parallel, saving some time.
there is some building and sparking from other people’s ideas (although not as much as from traditional brainstorming).
prioritisation is clear (although NB not everyone gets to score every item, so this isn’t as inclusive a process as things like dotting).
can be done in rooms that don’t have good wall space.
If you try it, let me know how you get on!
Making the Path by Walking
This post was first published in my Making the Path by Walking newsletter, December 2018. For practical tips on facilitation, organisational change and sustainability to your inbox each month, scroll down to the footer to subscribe.