The folks at CSOdessa, makers of ConceptDraw, have created a Labs site to show some of their internal projects and future thinking and have put up a couple of interesting tools available as free downloads. The latest is Brainstorm Lite (Mac only) which is a perfect replacement for sticky notes in a brainstorming technique I use frequently in meetings and coaching session. I was first introduced to these "affinity sessions" years ago and I've found them to be the single best best method for generating a large quantity of ideas from a group of people in a short period of time.
Here's how it works:
- Give each participant a sticky notes pad and a medium tip black marker
- On a white board (best) or an easel pad, write the question or topic you're brainstorming
- Define a short time period (five minutes is usually more than enough) and have everyone write as many ideas as possible - you're after quantity, not quality at this point. All ideas are good - the crazier the better. Encourage everyone to write as quickly as they can and keep each though to a few words (hence the marker and not a pen or pencil). Write big!
- At the end of the time period, everyone slaps their notes on the white board and reviews all of the ideas. Again, time box this review – two to three minutes is usually enough. During this review, anyone can add a few additional ideas if something they see inspiresthem.
- Now ask everyone to collectively participate in clustering similar ideas together into groups. Encourage discussion and debate.
- Ask the group to come up with labels for the clusters.
- Capture the ideas in a mind map (ideally) or a list and distribute as a takeaway from the session.
So what does this have to do with Brainstorm Lite? It is a digital version of the sticky notes that allows you to define the brainstorming time period and capture each participant's output as an OPML, RTF, or text file which can easily be imported into a mind mapping tool, spreadsheet program, or word processor for aggregation, clustering, and labeling.
It's simple, elegant, and free. Try it in your next brainstorming session.