The rules of brainstorming, according to top design firm IDEO

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1: Avoid the term “brainstorming”

2: Invest in chairs for your meetings.


I have been through IDEO training and I have to say it is quite good.

A revelation for me was the use of sticky notes to smooth out the traditional group dynamic of some folks dominating and some folks shrinking away from contribution.

Asking people to take 5 or 10 minutes and just write out every idea on the topic they can come up with on a sticky note really allows and encourages everyone to participate equally and fully.

The follow on processes of grouping and narrowing down the ideas still takes a somewhat aware facilitator, but the initial idea generation is generally much more productive.


You mean you don’t have an imaginary friend you can use as a sounding board?

But seriously, Mind Maps are good for that.
With a bit of practice you’ll learn to get into some sort of flow, and visualizing the ideas with a Mind Map makes it easy to structure it all.

Free software is available; my personal recommendation would be FreeMind or FreePlane (which is a fork from FreeMind) as they are very easy to work with and are available for Windows, Mac and Linux.
Just play with it a little, you’ll soon find out whether this is for you or not.


Just those three rules, eh? Seems straightforward.
So, looks like we eat first? :wink:

*scrolls down
Aha, there’s the list of rules…


I’ll put the kettle on


Chuck Jones in his book Chuck Amuck gives the rules for “yes sessions” at Termite Terrace where he made those wonderful Warner Brothers cartoons. He called them yes sessions because the word “no” was banned. They were two hour story jams where everyone contributed to the ideas that would appear on the screen.

I wonder if IDEO has ever looked at that book. You can read it online through Googlebooks at


My only exposure to IDEO is an interesting one. The Obama admin hired them to produce Enroll UX, which was a rich set of examples and documentation for states to set up their online health insurance marketplaces. The example site was great, for the time, but the accompanying documentation about how they made the decisions they did, their model user flows and maps is ecen better. I srill refer to it in operatioms and communications meeting at my org:

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They came by the studio where I was teaching youth media programs to do a product design brainstorming workshop once. It was pretty fun. I’d say if there’s one takeaway anyone should keep from good brainstorming strategies it’s “come up with as many different ideas as possible at the beginning of the process because you’re more likely to find at least one really good idea that way.”


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