Round-Robin Brainstorming

Brainstorming SessionInnowen is on the road today, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to contribute a little tip I've found invaluable in group brainstorming sessions. It was borne out of how I often generate ideas for stories and businesses: on index cards. This practise goes all the way back to high school for me, after reading an article in a writing magazine about generating and re-arranging plot points. A few years ago, I got to thinking of a way to use this within groups.

The method is quite simple and --thankfully-- should be easy for participants to grasp.

It goes like this:

  1. Set your group or team around a table. Give each one a stack of index cards.
  2. The problem or issue at hand is explained by the facilitator. If people want to discuss their ideas, stop them. (This may not be easy.) The important thing is not to "taint" their creativity with only one or two threads that might stifle new ideas.
  3. In relative silence, each person takes a card and writes down one idea. He or she then passes the card to the person on the right.
  4. That person reads the card and uses it to generate a new idea. He or she then turns the first card upside down in a stack, and passes the new card to the right.
  5. The process of writing new ideas and passing to the person on the right continues for a set amount of time, perhaps ten minutes.
  6. At the end, the facilitator gathers the cards. Each idea is read alound, and the cards are then arranged and grouped on a whiteboard or wall, with duplicates discarded. This is used to stimulate discussion or more ideas, preferably on another whiteboard or some mind-mapping software on a projector.

Like many brainstorming techniques, this one relies on ideas being generated in the absence of discussion for completely free-form thoughts unhindered by group trends or consensus. I've used it to good effect several times, and have no problem recommending it to teams stuck in a rut or seeking new directions.

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