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Variations on Brainstorming

Last week we examined the basics of brainstorming. Now we'll explore some variations and how they might be useful

Before you select a variation, think about the nature of your group:

  • Do you need to create more space for some quiet participants?
  • Are there one or two loud voices taking all the airtime?
  • Is there fear around speaking up because the subject is sensitive or the boss is in the room?
  • Do you need creativity in a group that is stuck?

Each situation calls for a different form of brainstorming.

Key Points To Take Away

--- Pick the variation that best suits the nature of your group.
--- In a group that works easily together, Popcorn Brainstorming is easy.
--- In a group with some quiet people, Subgroup Brainstorming may help.
--- Try One-at-a-Time Brainstorming if you are struggling with a few loud voices that are drowning out the rest.
--- Are participants afraid to raise ideas? Sticky Note Brainstorming protects anonymity.

Popcorn Brainstorming is a simple tool for groups in which everyone is comfortable speaking out. You just open the floor for ideas and take them as they come. Summarize ideas as necessary and record them on a flip chart. Remember to review the basic rules outlined in the last week's article, Brainstorming: The Basics.

Subgroup Brainstorming is good if you are worried about uneven participation or if you have a large group. People will feel safer starting in small groups, and everyone will get more time to speak. Multiple conversations often raise the level of energy in the room. Divide the group into subgroups of 2-4 participants each. Ask each group to generate a list of ideas in a specific time period. Then bring the groups together and take one idea at a time from each group until all the ideas are recorded.

Sticky Note Brainstorming allows participants some anonymity as they write their ideas on sticky notes. Give each participant a stack of notes and a marker. Ask them to write only one idea per note and to write legibly. Collect the notes and put them on the wall. Sticky notes are easy to move and reorganize at this time or as you prepare to move to the evaluation phase.

One-At-a-Time Brainstorming ensures that everyone has a chance to speak. Ask each participant to take a minute to make his own list of ideas. Then go around the group taking one idea at a time from the participants and recording it. Continue going around the group until all the ideas are recorded.

For more information about variations on traditional brainstorming, order your copy of Great Meetings! Great Results today.

NEXT WEEK IN GREAT MEETINGS: Graphic brainstorming, including brain mapping (mind mapping) and fishbone diagrams.

About Great Meetings

Pam Plumb and Dee Kelsey are your facilitators in charge of Education World's Great Meetings series. They are also authors of the popular guide to meeting facilitation, Great Meetings! Great Results. Together, Pam and Dee have more than 40 years' experience facilitating change and training meeting leaders.

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