No Wasted Actions

31.05.2017 |

Episode #4 of the course How to lead a productive and creative brainstorm by TD Haines


“The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult.” —Maria Montessori


One of my favorite things about structured brainstorming is that everything is designed for a reason. There are no wasted actions. Even the activities before the “actual brainstorming” starts are designed with a purpose.

That doesn’t mean it’s always business. Play can reveal insights about the problem as well.

I’m going to give you some quick tips for reducing any wasted actions in your brainstorm.


Tip #1: Use Your Plan

My dad was a football coach, and I coached for a while as well. He taught me to develop a comprehensive gameplan early so that on Friday nights, I wasn’t winging it.

You’ll spend time researching your problem and user persona. You’ll hand-pick the participants and keep balance so they all can add to the creative mojo. Don’t throw it all away in the “big game.”

Stick to the plan. Think ahead of time “Where can this go wrong?” Do a little pre-mortem.
If you identify where pain points with your process or questions are ahead of time, you can prepare some audibles as well. If one prompt isn’t working, go to your backup plan.


Tip #2: Get Random Words Up Front

When you introduce the talking order, give it a dry run by asking each participant, in order, to provide a random word. This gives them practice with this part of the brainstorming code, but it also serves a secret purpose.

Using random words as a lens is a great audible. Sometimes your planned question won’t generate the ideas you need. It’s ok to stop it short and ask them to use one of the random words as a lens. We’ll get into lenses and how to use them in the next lesson.


Tip #3: Devise a Meaningful Icebreaker

After introductions, after ground rules and random words, kick things off with an icebreaker. It’s a great time for everyone to throw out some silly ideas for a made-up problem and practice those ground rules again.

But this isn’t just any icebreaker. You’ve done the research on the root problem for the day. You want to give them an icebreaker question that is similar to the problem they’ll be solving.

For example, if you are brainstorming solutions for when something is missing, your icebreaker could be:

“You just made delicious cupcakes, but you don’t have the ingredients to make icing. What would be the best, and the worst, substitute for icing?”

Now it’s likely there won’t be usable solutions here, but it gets their brains firing the right ways.


Tip #4: Document It All

Taking notes will be key, but you’ll also be running, guiding, and making connections as well. You will miss some things. Make sure it’s ok with your participants first (when you invite them) and then record it.

Watch or listen to your recording afterwards. Look for two primary things: any ideas you may have missed and ways to improve your brainstorm for next time.

No action is wasted.



• Make a place to collect each participant’s random word on your brainstorming plan.

• Think about your problem. What is the very minimal core of your problem? Are there other things like this? Use this to create your icebreaker question.

• Create a plan to record your session. Think about what equipment you will need to record, e.g., cameras, audio recorders, screensharing software that records (like Zoom) to record a virtual brainstorm.


Recommended book

A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger


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