Brainstorming During Meetings: Moving Beyond Linear Thinking

Idea Chain

Last week I had the pleasure of facilitating a wilderness
team-building retreat. In preparation, I assembled some of the tools and models in my team-building inventory, such as mind maps and idea chains. (For those of you unfamiliar with the structure of a typical idea chain, the picture to the right is an example).

RELATED: 6 Brainstorming Tools for Event Planners

When I presented my ideas to my main contact, her response was to caution me when using the idea chain, saying, "It's a linear model, so expect some push back from the group."

Instead of "linear," my contact suggested I try to think in terms of circles and interconnections. So I played around with the model.

The results were so remarkable I thought I would share them with event planners who often have to come up with new ideas and approaches. By making a simple adjustment and converting the squares to circles, the range of possibilities grows infinitely.

Idea Chain Re-ConstructedIdea Chain Cluster

A circle is continuous, so connections can be generated in all directions, and the chain can take any shape. (Experiment with spirals and even a snake-like chain.) Working with this reconstructed idea chain, the teams generated much richer solutions than were possible with the linear model.

A few years ago I had taken the grids that are popular in business (e.g. priority grids, SWOT Analysis) and reconstructed them in a 3-D format. So I threw a challenge out to the group to reconstruct them in a less rigid, more fluid format.

GridThe Bubble

During the course of the retreat, the new shape became known as "the bubble." With a circular approach it was possible to view the connections between what had previous been a series of disconnected quadrants . . . or event planning terms . . . events. When planning an event, it can be helpful to perceive the connections between various components of the event plan and more easily spot gaps.

There are a number of take-aways from this experience:

  • Models are great guidelines and templates abut they need to be re-shaped and adapted, as required, to fit specific events and audience demographics.
  • Thinking outside the box doesn't have to involve "boxes." Experiment with different shapes and configurations. 
  • Clients, attendees, and event participants often have rich ideas that can be mined to improve all aspects of meetings and events, including approaches to brainstorming. Don't just be open to new ideas. Be proactive and incorporate a process for getting input as events take shape.
  • Interacting with participants from a variety of backgrounds exposes you to different world views. It is one of the best way to get new perspectives, improve meetings, and generate fresh approaches. 

For more insights, read 12 Strategies to Engage Conference and Meeting Participants and 5 Proven Networking Formats.

Credits: Executive Oasis International

Photo Credit: Romain Guy

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