The Facilitator’s Role

31.05.2017 |

Episode #1 of the course How to lead a productive and creative brainstorm by TD Haines


Hey there! Welcome to “how to lead a productive and creative brainstorm.” I’m excited to share with you a bunch of the tips and tricks I’ve learned through countless brainstorms. While totally optional, I encourage you to do the challenges at the end of each lesson. Not only will you get the most out of this course, you’ll finish with a working outline to lead your own brainstorm. We’ll call this your brainstorming plan.

So let’s dig in!

Before you step into the brainstorm, there are some key pieces that you, as the facilitator, will need to spend some thinking time on. Preparation is key and will keep things moving smoothly. You are designing an experience here.

“Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” —Joe Sparano


Pain Points and Personas

Start with the problem for the brainstorm. Spend some time and get deep into the problem. Conduct a handful of interviews. Do some research online. Are others experiencing the same problem? Is anyone else solving it? Most importantly, try to discover if there is a deeper root problem that this may be just a symptom of.

Also, narrow down your focus to one user persona. A “user persona” is a sample (or typical user) that experiences your problem. Having too many user-types broadens the scope of the brainstorm, and we want this session to be laser-focused on action.

Your user persona and the root problem will be your innovation anchors. This will make it easy to see if anyone’s ideas have broken the scope of your brainstorm.

It’s easy to slip up and start solving problems that aren’t the key problem or start solving for other personas. If that happens, document the idea and say that you’ll save it for another brainstorm. “It will fit better with a different problem/persona.”

You should also keep people on the task you’re working on. At times we’re just collecting raw ideas, but people will want to go right to solutions, or pitch their idea. Shut that down. Keep their brains on task.


Facilitator Pre-Planning

Spend some time and prepare some canned questions to push the thinking of your participants. “How do we overcome this problem now?” “What do you think a user feels when they face this problem?” “At the end of the day, what do we really want our users doing?” Sometimes an additional question from you will defrost a frozen conversation.

It’s also important to plan an ice-breaker. An ice-breaker is a fun first activity in the brainstorm to get everyone warmed up. We’ll talk more about the icebreaker in Lesson 4, but for now just know that you want participants to get comfortable suggesting wild ideas in front of each other. You want them to have an early success. You want your participants to feel cool and ready to have some fun!

*Super Secret Note: Make sure you bring sticky notes and some stickers. Sticky notes are for doodling and idea writing. Stickers are so people can vote at the end, if it’s needed. I always keep sticky note pads, circle stickers, index cards, and some dice in bag in case a sudden brainstorm breaks out. Why dice? That’s in Lesson 3.



• Open a new blank document. This is going to be your brainstorming plan.

• Identify a problem and persona you want to brainstorm around.

• Research to find the pain points and what users should be doing.


Recommended book

Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People by Ken Watanabe


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