Brainstorming is one of those things that everyone has encountered somewhere along the line. It’s one of those buzzwords that some people love and others dismiss. Jonah Lehrer has been critical of it. Others defend it strongly.
When I’ve brainstormed in the past, it’s been done in true Design Thinking fashion: people gathered together, Sharpie markers drawn, multi-colored Post-it notes in hand, and rules in place. To be honest, I’ve always felt kind of silly in the lead-up to a brainstorm session, but once the storm begins, I quickly get caught up in it. It’s partly excitement, it’s partly some kind of weird competitiveness (though no one’s keeping score), and it’s partly the simple creative opportunity to come up with ideas and not worry about how ridiculous they might seem. Collaborative, visible ideation–it usually leads to some great results.
The rethinkED team wanted to, well, rethink how this process might work. We like to have our team meetings in person, but this week, with the MTA not quite back to normal and one team member in Boston, we decided to use Google Hangouts to catch up and brainstorm some ideas for a workshop we’re planning. The four of us pulled up a shared Google Doc as a kind of virtual posting board, set the timer for five minutes, and just wrote, without words and without stopping. Perhaps we should have each turned our mics off for those five minutes, but the rapid tap, tap, tap of fingers on keyboards made for a fairly calming soundtrack as we let the ideas flow.
When it was over, we had 31 solid ideas, with some crossover here and there. We each then spent two minutes initialing our favorite three ideas. For the next twenty minutes we discussed the themes we saw and the overlap we found among our favorite ideas. The team felt that it was a great success, and we’re going to start developing those ideas into a menu of activities for our workshop participants to choose from.
Next week we’re going to go back to brainstorming the old-fashioned way–I’m bringing the Post-its. Maybe the old way will feel that much better, but for now we think that Google Hangouts provided everything we needed to connect and ideate successfully, even though separated by geography. Though I’m still a fan of meeting in person, you gotta work with what you have, and you shouldn’t dismiss a creative solution out of hand…*