Random Words & Brainstorming

Posted: March 18, 2014 in Brainstorming
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Random Entry Example

As a Scrum Master, it is inevitable that eventually one will need to facilitate a brain-storming session. My fall-back technique is silent brainstorming with post-its. This technique works really well at ensuring equal participation, but does not stimulate the lateral thinking that leaps of innovation usually need. Recently, I’ve been involved in two creative brainstorming sessions where the facilitator used a technique called Random Entry. It was quite fun to do and also produced a large number of creative ideas so I thought I would share more about my experience.

First, it’s a good idea to kick off the session with an activity to get the creative juices flowing. This can be as simple as having the team build something (e.g. a name tag for themselves; something using popcorn). This also ensures that everyone is awake! With brainstorming, it’s important to emphasis that the process is non-evaluative: we’re after a number of ideas – as many as we can – and it doesn’t matter how way out they are. Our facilitator encouraged us to focus on three Ps:

  • Playful (fun)
  • Positive
  • Prolific (lots)

Every idea counts. Even a seemingly random or unreasonable idea could be a seed for something more relevant to the product you’re trying to improve or problem that you are trying to solve. During the entire process, new ideas are encouraged, so ensure people are able to write-up and add new ideas if they think of them. This often happens while others are sharing their initial ideas as those ideas spark off thinking along related (or opposite) lines.

Once the team is loosened up, it’s time to generate the first batch of ideas. The first thing to do is select a random work; any word will do. You can find lists online or even use a dictionary. The problem the ideas relate to [focus] should be visible for this part, but the team should not be thinking about how to solve the problem.

Once a word has been selected, each person should think of at least four things that they associate with that word. In my example, the random word was ‘ferry’ and what I associated with the word ferry was transport, water, people/groups and Bali. From this point, the random word can be discarded. The ideas should flow from the associations each person has made. Once everyone has their list of associations, each person can brainstorm as many ideas as they can using silent brainstorming. Give the team about 5 – 10 minutes to do this. Remind everyone that the focus is on quantity and that there are no rules around what they can put down.

Once the initial idea generation is done, each person has the opportunity to stand up and read out their ideas. It’s usually a good idea to combine this sharing with an initial grouping process (so have a space available to map out the ideas). As each person adds their ideas, you’ll find specific groups will evolve. If there isn’t a clear grouping for an idea, don’t stress about it too much, it can go in a group on its own. At no time are ideas evaluated or criticised: this is a sharing and grouping exercise only. Additional ideas can be added as they come up (listen out for tongue-in-cheek suggestions which usually hide great ideas). If someone is unable to explain their idea (e.g. I had one in the ferry example that was ‘take people outside’ – I had no idea what I meant by that), then that’s OK. If there’s a group it might be related to, add it there, or leave it an orphan for the time being.

Once everyone has shared their ideas, then review and name the groups and close the idea generation session. The next step is to store the ideas in a share-able format. Ideas should be categorised by their group and then by whether they can be executed immediately (e.g. don’t have people working alone) or as ‘seeds’ that need more thinking and elaboration (e.g. make it a journey). This is the first step in the harvesting process, which I haven’t yet been involved in, so I’ll have to write more about that some other time 🙂

Some tools for creativity

Some tools for creativity

Popcorn animal

Popcorn Animal

Sharing

Sharing Ideas

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