Collaboration makeover: Ideating in the wake of the brainstorm

It’s official – the brainstorm is dead. As a format which favours extroverts and groupthink, brainstorming sessions tend to yield more clichés than keepers. With that in mind, we look at four alternative (but highly doable) methods to get those collaborative juices following.

1. Brainwriting

Brainwriting is a group idea generation method which closely follows the classic brainstorm formula, except it removes the pressures of judgement or groupthink by encouraging participants to write their ideas, rather than speak them. The most common method is 6-3-5 – in which 6 participants write down 3 ideas in response to a challenge in 5 minutes.

These ideas are then passed around the group for other participants to build out 3 more ideas, again in 5 minutes. This process continues until the group is exhausted or pay dirt is struck. Dropbox Paper provides a great tool to collaborate efficiently in this manner, and without needing everyone in the same room at the same time.

2. Huddle hide huddle

Often, the best ideas don’t come to people in big groups – they come to them in the background of their minds, slowly, over time or the course of a day. ‘Huddle Hide Huddle’ is a technique to cultivate this natural behaviour in a professional context. At the start of the day, the group ‘huddles’ for 15 minutes. In this time, everyone is introduced to the task and its parameters. Some initial ideas might be thrown around, but no one is tasked with coming up with anything on the spot – instead, each participant is tasked to come back at the end of the day with three (or more) ideas.

The morning session is called and the task is set to gestate over the course of the day in each participant’s head – the ‘hide’. Without time pressure, participants jot thoughts down as they come to them. At the end of the day, the group comes back for the second ‘huddle’ – a much longer session than the first, ideally upwards of 45 minutes. In this time the group shares their ideas, note similarities, and build on each other’s thoughts.

3. Creative conversations

A ‘brainstorm’ conjures up impressions of an unpleasant, high pressure system. Simply reframing it as a ‘creative conversation’ takes the pressure off participants. In this framing, the onus of needing to pipe up only when you have an idea is removed. Instead participants should feel free to throw out anything into the broader group – questions, side-thoughts, anecdotes or random observations that the task reminds them of, songs or paintings it makes them think about, loose ends in the task itself, half-baked thoughts, and so on.

Assign one or two people as scribes to jot down nuggets on Dropbox Paper so that the broader group can add to it. This casual climate works to bring out the natural creativity in the room, where the objective becomes less about coming up with the best idea, and more about gathering the mental material in which great ideas bloom.

4. Walk and talk

Sitting around in a room writing on Post-Its can get stale quick. Stanford researchers have found that getting up and walking around gets those creative juices flowing – with some added health benefits as well. 

As you walk, brain activity and perception naturally increases, tasks sink into a more subconscious stream of thought more lent to creative outputs, and the outside world provides more creative stimulus that drab interiors.

Summary

Making over the classical brainstorm is about alleviating the pressure-filled environment often associated with it. Feel free to find the way which works for your workplace – the blue sky’s the limit.