The ‘secret’ to a successful brainstorm is of course the enthusiasm of the people involved in the brainstorm. All the brainstorming guidelines result in nothing if the participants don’t get into a creative mood and start adding to each others ideas, and are willing to offer ideas that beyond the obvious. This might seem straightforward, but getting in a habit of adding to each-others ideas (instead of criticizing) and offering risky, unconventional ideas (instead of safe and obvious suggestions) is not something everyone does naturally when they participate in a brainstorm.
In order to stimulate creative and constructive behavior that will get some real results, I often use a 10 to 15 minutes warming-up to break the ice and get the creative juices flowing. These creative warming-ups have several purposes:
First of all we do warm-ups to settle everyone into a mindset where they leave the realm of logical, linear thinking and can freely offer ideas that might seem unlogical. We have to learn that thinking unconventional thoughts is not only allowed in a brainstorm, it is actually encouraged. Warm-ups can do so by specifically rewarding unconventional thinking.
The second reason is to give everyone a chance to spot and correct early violations of the ’10 commandments of Brainstorming’. Most essentially people who criticize the ideas of other people. The warm up also allows the facilitator to slip into the role of discussion leader (which is especially good if he or she is not usually the one in charge within the group of participants) and feel confidant about pointing out to people they should be constructive and postpone feedback and criticism untill after the brainstorm.
Third and last reason we use the warming ups is to learn to build on each-others ideas. We have a tendency to think others ‘own’ the idea the offered in a brainstorm and it would be ‘cheap’ or ‘uncreative’ to build on those ideas, while in fact, this is the very nature of a brainstorm.
On to the Icebreaking!
The following 12 techniques are akin to play, and may seem a little childish at times. But it’s part of the warm-up function to get over that restricting self-censoring feeling that tell you you shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the creative process of problem solving.
- Bring a random object into the brainstorm and ask for alternative products that could be made with it if it was bigger/smaller.
- Lateral Puzzles such as: A man walks into a bar, and asks for a glass of water. The bartender pulls a gun on him at which the man replies with ‘thank you’ and walks outside. The participants can ask questions that can only be answered with yes or no, until the situation can be explained logically: The man had the hick-ups. (look here for a nearly endless archive of Lateral Puzzles)
- Word association game. Name a word, the person sitting next to you says the first word he or she associates with the word. Repeat untill the ‘word’ comes back to you. List the first and the last word associated and try to think of a logical scenario connecting the two.
- Randomization: Every participant has to write down an activity and an object, then passes the activity to the right, and the object to the left. Then have each participants explain how their new combination would still make sense.
- Roleplay: In-act a scenario related to the topic of the brainstorm – appoint different roles for each participant and take them through the scenario.
- Electro Powered Something. Take an every day object and ask how it could be improved using batteries. (i.e. a book, a bottle, a cup).
- Round table story: Start off with a small story introduction, then aks the participants to continue the story, one sentence at a time.
- Ask the participants ‘What if our company/brand is an object, what kind of object would it be and why?’
- A word game of opposites. Name a word, then all participants have to think of opposites until at least 3 opposites have been listed, before moving on to the next word.
- Try solving a huge topic (such as world hunger) using a random object within the room.
- Play Pictionary. One person uses the whiteboard to start drawing something abstract such as a movie, a play, a song or a brand.
- Pick a small number of famous people, and an equal amount of different colors, then ask the participants to match a color to a person.
Of course there’s lots of variations possible – in general there’s 3 rules for a good warm-up excersize:
- Keep the warm-up unrelated to the main brainstorm. Part of the goal of the warm up is to teach the participants every idea has equal value. With the warm=up being to involved in the main brainstorm, there is a chance people feel reluctant to express themselves.
- There should be no right or wrong ideas. For instance solving puzzles should not be about the result but about the process of solving them. Different thinking should be encouraged, and ‘one solution challenges’ tend to force simular thinking.
- Use randomization and play. Dice, a deck of cards, random objects or rotating ideas such as warm-up number 4 challenge the participants to think outside of traditional, predictable patterns, and force them to think creatively. This will be of great help when you want to facilitate lateral leaps in the real brainstorm.
And most important of all – don’t forget you’re allowed to enjoy this part. Large Innovation firms have recognised the relation between play and creative productivity, and my experiences have been no different. So have fun and happy brainstorming!