If you have ever had a brainstorming session where people
sat around hesitating to contribute, you can understand how important
the right frame of mind is. You need the members of the group
to feel free to throw their ideas out there no matter how crazy
they may seem. You also need them to be open to new ideas and
thinking creatively. Here's a little warm up exercise that will
A Brainstorming Exercise
Before you formally start the brainstorming session, and start
addressing the problems and projects you need new ideas for,
do the following. You may have done something similar to this
in the past. My wife and I most recently participated in this
brainstorming exercise at a financial seminar. In that case,
a paper clip was the object used.
Essentially, you just choose an object and have everyone write
down as many ways as they can think of to use it. First split
the participants into smaller groups of two-to-five people each.
Offering a prize for the group that comes up with the most uses
will add some competitive incentive, but don't specify that the
ideas have to be good or in any way judged - the prize goes strictly
That last point is important, because this exercise is supposed
to get everyone in a creative and open frame of mind. You want
any and all ideas thrown out there without fear. Judging of ideas
should always come at a later stage and - in the case of this
exercise - never. Humor is helpful, so encourage everyone to
be thinking crazy thoughts.
Set a time limit for this. Keep it short - perhaps ten minutes.
You want to purposefully rush this exercise a bit in order to
get everyone thinking fast and speaking before they have time
to analyze their ideas. This helps get them out of the habit
Some of the ideas that our group came up with at the seminar
included using a paper clip to pick locks, to clean out ears
and as a fishhook. In our five minutes, the four of us came up
with just twenty ideas. The winning group had written down over
thirty uses for a paper clip.
Once the exercise is over, you should feel some excitement
in the air, and their really ought to be some laughter. A paper
clip for an earring? You are now ready to start the brainstorming
session with the important problems and projects - and in the
right frame of mind.
To impress upon the group how crazy ideas can sometimes lead
to valuable insights and plans, you might want to tell the following
Canadian Kyle MacDonald used a paper clip to get a house.
He started by trading it with someone online for a fish-shaped
pen. The pen was traded for a hand-made ceramic doorknob. Fourteen
trades and a year later, he made his last trade and moved into
a new house with no mortgage. That's creativity applied to real