At Starshot, we have long held the idea that creative is not a department in our business.  We are also on a quest to vanquish unnecessary bureaucracy with a particular focus on the time killing consequences of corporate meeting culture.

So where does the brainstorm fit between this?

Brainstorms can be highly valuable or an utter waste of time depending on how the session is structured.  Like any time collectively spent working together, a good foundation is necessary for any brainstorm to produce results.

With this in mind, here is Starshot’s formula for running a powerful 30 minute brainstorm session focused on developing high-level, meaningful ideas.…

Step 1 – Start by hand-picking people with diverse points of view but limit the number of attendee’s to the minimum amount needed to generate ideas.  Overloading a brainstorm meeting room with people results in information overload and people feel intimidated to create ideas for fear of talking over others or monopolizing the time.

Step 2 – Ask everyone invited to prepare by doing 15 minutes of background research in advance.  Send everyone a must-read memo outlining the topic to be discussed, the intended outcome and asking them to turn their brains on and research the topic prior to entering the brainstorm.

Step 3 – Use a timer.  This will be a 30 minute session structured into 10 minutes of free flowing ideas, 5 minutes of idea selection and 15 minutes of idea analysis.

Step 4 –  Kick the session off with a quick overview of the high-level purpose.  A good analogy is to put the following three words on the top of a whiteboard:

WHY  >  HOW  >  WHAT

30 minute brainstorms are most effective when the focus is on answering the question of why.  Why is this important? Why are we doing this? Why will this matter or make a difference?

Why = purpose
How = methodology
What = details

The goal here is to stay as focused as possible on the purpose or the why.

Spend 10 minutes maximum, free-flowing and capturing ideas.  All ideas are relevant and the brainstorm facilitator will have to encourage the flow of ideas,  stopping cold any negativity, side-track commentary on ideas or monopolization of the discussion.

Step 5 – With a  mass of ideas generated, spend the next 5 minutes picking out the ideas that are jumping out at the group.  A maximum of three to four ideas should be ideally be selected for promotion to the analysis phase.

Step 6 – Isolate the ideas selected and ask the group to spend the next 15 minutes looking at each idea individually by aligning discussion around the following perspectives.

Green Hat POV – What are the positive merits of this particular idea?
Red Hat POV – What are the potentials risks of using this idea?
Black Hat POV – What are the negative aspects of this idea?
Blue Hat POV – What are the blue sky or ideal potential outcomes of this idea?

As the group discusses each idea, it is important that the discussion is contained only to the Point of View being discussed.  The group starts by collectively putting on the Green Hat, followed by the Red Hat, the Black Hat and the Blue Hat.

This methodology is designed to have a  group look at the four main perspectives of an idea while minimizing bias.  The end result is a more well rounded analysis of the top ideas generated.

Using this structure for brainstorms, it is possible to have three or four great ideas in place in 30 minutes.  Each ideas also will come with an initial understanding of the relative positive, negative, risks and potential outcomes.

Establishing a meaningful purpose as the foundation is critical and you will find that the various methodologies of how and what will flow naturally once the core idea is firmly established.