I have yet to meet a brainstorm I don't like, assuming the basic rules are obeyed. Those rules are pretty simple:
- There is no such thing as a bad idea.
- Get as many ideas out there as you possibly can.
- Build on others' ideas.
- Don't force the energy -- when it starts to subside let the flare go.
Late last month, I was a facilitator for the Global Shapers of Palo Alto's Shaping Davos event here at the d.school. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a member of the group's leadership team this year, actively recruiting members to a community I have been a part of for the past three years. The Global Shapers are an initiative of The World Economic Forum, which, last month, hosted its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The Shapers' initiative is an opportunity for young leaders to formulate self-directed communities, leveraging their skills to improve the state of the world.
It is, as we often discuss here at the d.school, an emergent system. Hubs are created as the need arises. There are currently more than 350 hubs around the world, with each hub managing itself independently of one another and of the Forum.
So, in January, members of the Palo Alto Shapers gathered with invited guests and members of the d.school community to conduct a brainstorming workshop around a series of challenges. The challenges were curated from three organizations: Food Shift, StreetCode Academy and Wikimedia Foundation. Attendance ranged between 20-30 people, with six coaches each leading teams of between four and five people. The goal was to produce as many ideas as possible around a single "how might we" statement.
I ran two different prototypes in this workshop. Yes, two. I wanted to test ways in which to brainstorm that were customized to a particular challenge. My team was with StreetCode Academy and our challenge was centered around vocabulary and message.
Now, I have to confess, quite a bit has happened between now and then. So, my memory is a bit soft. This is, to be frank, the price of not immediately recording process: you lose the details and, with that, the insights. It is also the price paid when you bias so entirely towards doing rather than balancing your energy between the act of doing and reflection.
Here, in as much detail as I can muster, are two experiments I ran:
1. A word storm: My team of five had two distinct groups: a pair of stakeholders from StreetCode Academy and three more individuals each from a different organization. Inherent to the challenge was discovering new words -- a new vocabulary for StreetCode to use. So, I had the stakeholders on my team populate one whiteboard with words they used and severely disliked. The other three participants were charged with brainstorming antonyms to those words.
2. Analogous organization storm: In this brainstorm I charged participants to come up with other organizations that faced a similar, though not the same problem. These could be real organizations or even conceptual ones that applied different tools to face a similar or related problem. I then asked all participants to iterate off of the analogs, coming up with new ideas that StreetCode might be able to reference or implement.
In between the two exercises I asked the stakeholders from StreetCode to select the positive words that surprised them the most. I also asked them to select the scenarios that intrigued or interested them the most.
The experiments were, for the most part, successful. The stakeholders from StreetCode appeared to be genuinely inspired by the words that came out of the vocabulary storm and encountered organizations they had not previously considered as models off of which to build. It was fascinating to watch stakeholders interact with non-stakeholders in a collaborative way. One idea from a non-stakeholder would inspire a stakeholder insight that would lead to a new idea, and, before I knew it, the team was already discussion real-world next steps.
Will I try these experiments again? Absolutely. But next time, I'll take notes.