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A Simple Process on How to Brainstorm

A Simple Process on How to Brainstorm

Sean McDermott

I was in a CEO Peer Group for about ten years, and we practiced a straightforward process for ideating and developing recommendations for problem-solving. What I loved about this process is that it is simple and, if well moderated, keeps the conversation from diverging into subtopics, tangents, and rabbit-holes, all of which waste time and make meetings very unproductive.

What makes this process unique is that the group is not responsible for solving the problem or issue, but their role is to bring different perspectives to the topic and allow the presenter to decide the best solution by viewing through a broader lens.

There are three roles here:

  • The presenter. The person coming to the group with a problem or issue they believe a group brainstorming session could give a broader perspective of their issue.
  • The moderator. The person who controls the session, including time, and keeps the group on task for each particular step.
  • The group. A gathering of individuals with varying experiences and perspectives.

The process goes something like this:

  1. State the Problem. The presenter states the problem clearly and succinctly for one minute. Framing the problem forces the presenter to be clear and concise in describing the issue. I highly recommended that the presenter come prepared to talk about the issue at hand and craft a well written "statement" around 150 words or less.
  2. Group Clarifying Questions. The group goes into "question only" mode and asks clarifying questions. No one is allowed to make a suggestion or recommendation; only ask questions. Here is where the moderator HAS to control the process because people naturally want to solve the problem. This step is not the time. The group can ask any amount of questions they want, but you might want to time-bound this step to 20-30 minutes. The presenter needs to answer the questions specifically and stay on topic. Remember, no recommendations or suggestions, just questions. I cannot stress this enough.
  3. Recommendations. Each individual in the group goes one-by-one and provides a list of suggestions they believe may help the presenter solve the issue. The presenter should take copious notes and star recommendations that resonate well with them. Having an open mind is imperative for the presenter. The presenter should not speak at this step but listen intently. The group should also have been listening to the questions to get a broader perspective of the issue so that they can provide better guidance.
  4. Recap. The presenter reviews their notes, summarizes what they heard, and details a list of actions he/she may take to resolve the issue presented. Do not expect a definitive action plan, but rather a list of various activities and perspectives that the presenter can take back, review, and incorporate into a detailed action plan.

Most times, we could get through one issue an hour, as long as the moderator keeps the integrity of each step.

Wheels up!