by Nancy Zwiers | 21 Jan 2022
The Bloom Report
A Professional Brainstorm Facilitator's Best Brainstorm Tips
By Nancy Zwiers
I have been a facilitating strategic brainstorm sessions (“Clarity Sessions”) across multiple industries for over two decades and I’ve learned a few things that work.
As background, over 30 years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a highly structured—and creative-- group strategy process developed by an ex-P&G executive, Ron Fotheringham (since retired). It was so effective, I brought Ron into Mattel (where I led a global girls’ toy division) to help us successfully strategize the relaunch of Polly Pocket and revitalization of Cabbage Patch. Later, I brought Ron in to work with my consulting clients at Funosophy, including Vivendi Universal. After Ron announced he was retiring, he granted me a license to use his process in my work and I used it as a backbone of my brand-building efforts on behalf of clients.
Brainstorming: What works:
One key creative dimension of the Clarity Session process is “Diverge-Converge.” In this exercise, you pose a question to the group, and invite the group members to “diverge”—i.e., brainstorm a long list of answers to the question. After the answers are listed, you then proceed to the “converge” step in which group members vote on the best answers by a show of hands.
The Clarity Session process recommends people vote for 25% of the long list items (e.g., pick top 10 out of 40 ideas to end up with 10 top ideas overall). The beauty of adding a “converge” step is that you can narrow the list of ideas into a more manageable short list of the most liked ideas. A tighter, better list is likelier to spur real follow-up action.
Quantity Begets Quality.
The more ideas you generate in total, the more high-quality ideas you are likely to generate. I’ve noticed over the years, groups with long initial lists yield higher quality shorter lists that generate more excitement.
No Bad Idea
Brainstorms are inherently playful. As such, anything goes. The craziest idea that would never fly has the potential to spur a new thought in someone else. This is the cardinal rule of brainstorms (as well as improv, where the key is to always say “yes” and go along with whatever your improv partner says). In both cases, the minute someone says “no,” momentum comes to a screeching halt.
How To / I Wish
Consider prefacing ideas with “how to” or “I wish” to keep the edgier ideas coming. It’s inherently less risky to put an idea out there with one of these lead-ins, and they create space for others to jump into the fray with their own ideas. For example: “I wish we could get consumers to buy a dozen “x” at a time.” Or “How to get consumers to buy a dozen “x” at a time?”
What Would It Take?
I learned how powerful this brainstorm prompt is when I was regularly facilitating cross-functional strategic brainstorms for Disney. My client, Jennifer Rogers-Doyle (Head of Franchise and Marketing Integration for Disney Channel and Disney Junior at the time) taught me this as a way to open the floodgates of creativity to answer any great challenge.