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How to Brainstorm

Have you ever had a client who hired you to complete a project, but it turns out they actually have no idea what they want?

Often people will go straight toward a “goal” without actually doing the work of considering what they actually want and need first.

Guiding your clients through a process of brainstorming what they want, and need will not only build your credibility, it will also make your job easier because you’ll be able to actually deliver what they need…not what they think they need.

Here’s a basic brainstorming protocol you can use for any project.

Start with some ground rules

  • Don’t worry about granularity – you might come up with a whole new project, a product feature, an individual task, or something else – just get it all out. You can sort out the hierarchy later.
  • You can’t be wrong. Legitimately let go of being right, solving the problem, and looking smart (or dumb).
  • Have a bias toward action.
  • Don’t think about barriers (time, money, gravity, etc.).
  • Go for quantity over quality.
  • Build on the ideas of others. Dust off your “yes, and” … you’re going to need it.

Layout the challenge and ideal state

Challenge - What do you want to accomplish?

  • What is holding you back from accomplishing this?
  • How do you know this is a problem?
  • Why do you want to accomplish this?
    • Ask “why” a few more times here to really get to the core.

Ideal state - How will you know we were successful?

  • What does success look and feel like?
  • What are the actual results you want that you aren’t seeing now?
  • Who defined these metrics? Are there other metrics we might consider?
  • If they give you numeric goals, push them to think about qualitative goals - what does success look/feel like?

Ready, set? Brainstorm!

Answer this question: How do we get to the ideal state?

  • Get your sticky notes, Google doc, whiteboard, whatever you need, and go.
  • Have your participants generate as many ideas as they can – ALONE.
  • Set a timer.
  • Make sure you’re following the rules outlined above.

Group and refine

  • Have everyone put their ideas together.
  • Group them into common themes.

Go back to your challenge and ideal state

Rule things in or out based on their ability to solve the challenge and get you to the ideal state. 

Prioritize, plan, and do

The next step is to turn your brainstorm into action, which is a complete course unto itself, but here are a few high-level steps:

  • Rate each thing in terms of value and effort (high/medium/low) and then start with the things that are high value/low effort.
  • Organize items based on what needs to happen first and build a timeline around that.
  • Do it.

You’d be surprised how many people skip that last bullet.

A brainstorm is worth nothing if you don’t actually put it to work to solve a problem.  


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