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Your team leader calls a meeting to explain an issue escalated by customer service to the Vice President of Operations. He personally hands this issue to your team to resolve. Millions of dollars are on the line, with the potential for recalls and lawsuits.

The team leader, after explaining the nature of the issue and its potential impact, states that he’d like to start with a brainstorming session to come up with solutions. Everyone groans. Jason calls out “What about the article that I sent you last week? It was written by an innovation expert and explains that brainstorming doesn’t generate better, more innovative ideas?”

Amanda, who is soft spoken, stands up to comment, “And I feel like my ideas are never heard or considered. It’s always one person that hijacks the session.” Many people grumble their agreement and look to the end of the table where Charles sits.

Charles has been with the company for 20 years. He accepts the comment and stares with a shrug. “I’ve been doing this longer than any of you. I know every product inside and out. I’ve designed most of them! Is it any wonder that I know how to solve any issue?”

If this scenario is reminiscent of your organization’s idea-generation sessions, know that you are not alone. People forced to work together often have difficulty collaborating. When told to generate creative ideas, the room freezes. If a brainstorming session is held, one or two individuals dominate the conversation and you end up with the same, cookie-cutter solutions.

“Experts” have written that brainstorming is ineffective, so how does your team generate creative and innovative solutions to problems?

By BrainSparking!

The experts have half of the issue correct. Brainstorming by simply letting people shout out ideas is NOT effective. However, if you provide a little structure and a few rules, then brainstorming is VERY effective. Our structured process for conducting a brainstorming session maximizes your results. Everyone provides ideas, the diversity of the team is fully utilized, and the result is a number of creative and innovative ideas. We call this process BrainSparking because it goes beyond brainstorming and sparks the creative neurons of the entire team.

Conducting a BrainSparking Session

Here is the process at a high level:

Tools Needed:

  • Post-it® notes
  • Pads of paper or small whiteboards
  • Large whiteboard with dry erase markers
  • Timer
  • A facilitator. Sometimes it is beneficial to use someone outside of the department or organization to facilitate the BrainSparking session to make sure there are no biases.


  • Include as diverse of a group of people as possible. People from different departments, positions, genders, races, and cultures provide a multitude of various perspectives.
  • Set a time limit and have a timer running for each step.
  • Have an assigned facilitator to call time and capture the ideas. This person challenges ideas, captures them, and identifies the top ideas to pursue. This person also keeps one person from dominating the session.

The Process

NOTE: Depending on the size of your group and/or the complexity of the issue, you may need to adjust this process.

  1. Fully explain the issue or challenge, as it is currently understood, before beginning the session.
  2. Conduct a Question Finding session to clearly identify the true problem or the customer/market value.
    • State the problem/issue as simply and clearly as possible. It should be impactful.
      • For example, “If we don’t prevent children from putting this product in their mouths, it could result in deaths, loss of the brand reputation, and financial losses from lawsuits and recalls.”
    • Next, brainstorm questions related to the statement. Capture every question as stated. They should each be open-ended questions.
      • “How can we make this product less attractive to children?”
    • Select one question that captures the essence of the issue; the one that “gets you in the gut.”
      • The selection of the final question may be subjective to the facilitator, but it should represent the core issue to be solved.
    • Create a new open-ended question using the original issue and the best question. It should be clear, concise, and compelling.
      • “How can we make the product less attractive and accessible to children, so they do not put it into their mouth?”
  3. Divide the group into teams of around two to three people. With a larger group you may have as many as five in one group.
  4. Set the timer for a specific amount of time (2-4 minutes is optimum, but it is subjective), and instruct individuals to write ideas for a solution/answer to the question on post-it notes. The ideas should be high-level, but explain enough of the solution to not require much explanation.
  5. Instruct everyone to follow BrainSparking etiquette (Download it here[)
  6. Next, instruct everyone to share their Post-it® note ideas within their team. Each team should have a designated person to capture and record the post-it notes on a whiteboard or organizes them on a table. There should not be an in-depth discussion or explanation of the idea. People only need enough information to understand the basics.
  7. Remaining in the teams have group members call out additional ideas inspired by the initial ideas. Again, each team should have a designated person to capture and record the new ideas onto post-it notes. Remind everyone to follow the BrainSparking etiquette.
  8. Finally, each team should share the team’s ideas while the facilitator records every idea on a whiteboard. Again, follow the BrainSparking etiquette.
  9. Once all team ideas are captured, the facilitator should ask the entire group for any additional ideas that have been generated and capture them.
  10. Finally, clarify the ideas. Participants request additional explanation of any idea they don’t fully understand (if necessary, have a timer for the explanations so they do not take too much time).
  11. The facilitator restates the question being solved and then everyone votes for the top three ideas that solve the question.
  12. The creators of the top three ideas provide further explanation, if necessary, and the room votes on the top idea to pursue.
  13. Action items are created and a plan for reporting status and results are determined.

Contact Me

Contact me today if you are interested in a BrainSparking session! I am available to facilitate your meeting while teaching you how to run your own session.

And remember to download my free BrainSpraking Etiquette tips (From the Conditioning Your Mind to Fuel Creativity book).

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