What if there was a way to come up with brilliant ideas faster? If you're looking for a brainstorming technique to disrupt your team's neuro pathways and generate fresh ideas, this is the play for you.
AND I NEED THIS... WHY?
We're constantly being pushed to innovate, innovate, innovate. "Push the envelope! Shift the paradigm!" Easy for executives to say, but... much easier said than done.
That's because coming up with good ideas is hard. Really hard.
This play is all about getting out of whatever mental rut your team is in. During a block of focused time, teammates brainstorm on a theme. At the start, they think "broad" – anything goes, no limits. Then you'll introduce constraints, using "Disrupt Cards". Every time a new constraint is introduced, it sparks new ideas because it forces you into a direction you haven’t considered before. By the end, you'll have a set of winning ideas you can start pursuing right away.
This session will be remembered just as much for what gets left on the cutting room floor as what you walk away with.
WHO SHOULD BE INVOLVED?
This activity benefits from having diverse skill sets, knowledge and areas of expertise in the room, so keep that in mind as you're inviting participants. We suggest:
- The project's full-time owner
- The project's sponsor, if applicable
- A selection of core project team members and external stakeholders
- A rockstar facilitator
6 - 8
Agree on a theme (15 mins)
Talk to the project's sponsor or full-time owner about the theme for the session. Then create a page with all the relevant research and background on your theme. Share it out with the team a couple days in advance, to get the creative juices flowing.
Book a room for 2 hours: 15 minutes to set up, 90 minutes for the session, and 15 minutes to take photos and clean up.
Set the stage (2 min)
Re-iterate the purpose of the brainstorming session and how it'll run. It'll be high energy, fast paced, and a lot of movement. As facilitator, remind the group that your job is to keep the session moving along and keep them honest when it's time to cull ideas.
You're about to split into two smaller groups, so nominate a lead for each. This is someone who won’t switch groups during the disrupt loops and will be your source of truth on every idea their group generates. Then designate wall or whiteboard space for each group to use.
To spark creativity, clear your minds of pre-conceived ideas. Some teams even meditate to get into a "blank slate" mentality.
Warm up (8 min)
Have the leads move off to their respective walls or whiteboard. Remaining team members divide up and join a group lead – self-selecting is fine. Each group should include three to four people (including the group lead). Remind the group lead that they're the voice for their whiteboard, so they have to be familiar with all the ideas generated.
Then let the brainstorming begin! For example, let's say the theme is "getting from San Francisco to Sydney"
- stow away in the cargo hold of a 747
- luxury cruise
- find work swabbing the decks on a freighter
Each group generates as many ideas as possible, with no constraints. Any idea is encouraged, so go broad and get it all out there. Put each idea on a sticky note and discuss it with your group as you post it on the whiteboard.
Culling, pt. 1 (5 min)
Now it's time to work in silence. Each person walks the room, going over to other groups board and removing the ideas they don't support.
Just like a movie production house, cut ideas out and throw them on the floor. Don't be shy about culling ideas. Your team can't ship everything and you're here to disrupt. By the end of culling, roughly half the ideas should be on the floor.
Resist the temptation to resurrect culled ideas as the session goes on. The whole idea is to move into new territory, so as the song says, "let it go".
Disruptive brainstorm loops (60 min)
Now each group has some good ideas, and so-so ones lying on the floor. But have you really shaken things up? Now it's time to disrupt your previous thinking.
Each brainstorm loop is 10 minutes long. You have an hour dedicated here so aim for at least five disrupt loops. During each loop:
- Add a new disrupt card, removing the old one
- Move one non-lead team member between groups
- Generate as many ideas as possible, within the constraints dictated by the disrupt card for that loop (no culling yet!)
Although you don't cull ideas at the end of each loop, don't feel like you can't cull until you've done all your loops. As a rule of thumb, do a round of culling when you've got, say, 50-75 from all groups. Your final round of culling is only 15 minutes, so make sure the number of ideas you need to sort through in that time is manageable.
As you introduce a disrupt card, shake things up a bit. Ask everybody to stand on one leg, spin in circles, do push ups... whatever might shock people out of their comfort zone.
Culling, pt. 2 (15 min)
After the brainstorm loops, you'll have a metric tonne of ideas. Now it's time to be ruthless (ruthless!) in getting rid of the so-so ones. Throw out anything not feasible or desirable – don't be precious about your ideas, and don't let your teammates be precious about theirs.
Most teams end up with roughly 10% of their ideas still on the board by the end of culling. Keep the best, chuck out the rest.
Document the ideas (5 min)
The last and final step is to organise the remaining brainstormed ideas into themes. Then, review them all as a team and agree on an owner for each idea.
As a follow up, you will document the idea and add it as a JIRA issue on your team's backlog to ensure that you get all the relevant information when everyone is in the room.
Be sure to run a full Health Monitor session or checkpoint with your team to see if you're improving.Find your Health Monitor
Use a mini version of this play to kick off an offsite. It'll get the creative juices flowing, and get everyone comfortable setting aside ideas that don't really fit the bill or offer anything new. If you need to break a lot of new ground, run 2-3 full-length disruptive brainstom sessions over the course of a multi-day offsite.
FOX IN THE HEN HOUSE
Bring in a stakeholder as a guest and give them enough context to understand and interpret the ideas on the board. Then make them the sole person responsible for culling.
Make sure your brilliant ideas are captured as a JIRA issue in your team's backlog or on a Confluence page. Add details and any other info that helps bring the idea to life: sketches, journey maps, user personas, etc.
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