Blood from the  Brainstorming Turnip

By Carl Pritchard

I recently received an e-mail from a client asking for ways to ensure positive outputs and higher energy from his upcoming brainstorming session.  I suggested there are some ways to make brainstorms far more effective and to ensure you get the information you need and merit.

1)  If there are specific forms, formats or data sets you want to retrieve during the brainstorm, be sure to lay out templates of what “good information” looks like before you start.   For example:  If I just ask for Risks, I’m going to get one-word answers.  If I ask for risks, per the format of “<<Bad thing>> may happen, causing <<Impact>>, I get a much richer data set in a format I can leverage.

2)  Try a couple of different strategies.  Try the group experience (just ask the room), and then consider the Crawford Slip for another data set.  The Crawford Slip is the process of handing out slips of paper and encouraging cycle after cycle of written brainstorm responses on individual slips of paper.  If you want to vary it, consider asking for their input first.  Then tell them you’re about to look for a different type of input, and ask them to reply to the same questions…wearing different hats…”If you were the corporate home office…”  “If you were the senior vice-president….”  “If you were working on the support staff…”  You’ll get a dramatically different data set from each question.

3)  Tell the participants EXACTLY what you plan to do with the data, and what’s in it for them.  If they don’t know, it’s going to be hard for them to perceive value in their efforts.

4)  Remember the 15 seconds of silence (the American cultural threshold of pain for silence).  If no one offers input right off the bat, don’t worry.  Give them 15 seconds.  One of them will crack.  You just have to outlast them.

5) Toward the end, if you’re close to wrapping it up, tell them how many more ideas/thoughts you’d like to get on the table before you quit.  “I think if we get 6 more up here, we’ll have enough to develop something substantial from your data.  Let’s see if we can squeeze out 6 more…”  This gives them a limit and makes them more likely to contribute in the knowledge that their contribution isn’t dragging things out…it’s getting things closer to completion.

And all the basic rules….  Everyone gets a chance to participate.  No criticism of ideas until after it’s over.  Go until ideas are exhausted…

Copyright 2010, Pritchard Management Associates, All Rights Reserved.

For questions or rights information?  e-mail carl(at)