The 5 Minute Brainstorm

Great brainstorm facilitation requires lots of reps, trial, and error. As a new design thinking practitioner, I found the Ideate phase of design thinking particularly challenging since I had minimal prior experience in conducting brainstorms.

It took me considerable time to plan my first brainstorm after my initial design thinking training. It took me even more time to work up the courage to facilitate one. I wanted it to be perfect, but also felt pressure to generate great ideas quickly.

Fortunately, my first brainstorm went very well. This success earned me invitations to facilitate future brainstorms & ideations. While I relished and accepted all these opportunities, I also encountered a handful of situations where I was asked to generate ideas quickly without having the time to plan and conduct a “proper” brainstorm.

For these time-constrained situations, I strive to prevent “perfect” from getting in the way of “good”. Rather than procrastinate or postpone, to hold the perfect brainstorm that generates the perfect ideas, I’ve found diving in quickly with some help from the digital space, fruitful in generating lots of good ideas quickly.

2 brainstorming techniques I love for rapid idea generation include the E-storm and the I-storm. 

“The E-storm” – (E-mail brainstorm)

The e-storm is a brainstorm conducted via e-mail.  It’s a great way to brainstorm when it’s difficult to get everyone in the same room at one time (e.g. when participants have conflicting schedules or work in different offices).

Start with a tight articulation of the problem to solve and translate this problem into a 1-2 sentence design challenge for your participants to brainstorm against. Communicate your design challenge via e-mail to your e-storm participants and include a few illustrative examples of potential ideas, to help them understand the type of input you’re seeking. End your e-mail with an assignment for them to complete, one that’s very simple (requiring only a few minutes on their end) but has a quick turnaround deadline.

Tip: Get higher response rates by adding a fun & compelling ‘subject’ to your e-mail.

Once you receive initial responses from participants (often worth their weight in gold), compile the ideas into a list and send the list to your participants, asking them if they feel inspired to build off any of these ideas. I’ve often found that some of the best ideas come from this 2nd stage of the e-storm, as participants rift off the initial ideas of others.

Sample E-Storm Template E-mail

e-storm brainstorming template

“The i-Storm” – (i-Phone or other mobile device brainstorm)

The i-storm is a brainstorm conducted via text message (I have an iPhone, hence the i-storm name).

I-storms work for quick 1:1 brainstorms or very small groups (I recommend no more than 3-4 people). I-storms are great for not only quick turnaround ideations, but also for generating empathy with your design target. For example, I recently needed ideas from younger millennials; the few I know well (family members) live out-of-state. They provided me with not only some great ideas, but also some good insight into the “millennial mindset”… all via text message.

Sample i-Storm Template 

i-storm brainstorming template

Don’t let perfect get in the way of good when you need to generate ideas quickly. The next time you’re on a time crunch and need some good ideas quickly, try an e-storm or an i-storm. They’re fun, easy, and can deliver lots of great ideas quickly!

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