IDEO’s Design Thinking: The 7 Rules for Brainstorming

Posted by Kristin Arnold on March 28, 2017

This week, I am facilitating a breakout session at a conference where the opening keynote was Joe Brown, Portfolio Director for IDEO, an innovative global design company.  As he was describing their design-thinking process, Joe shared some insights into how they go about brainstorming:

First and foremost, to keep the evaluation out of the brainstorming!  (I often compare the mixture of the two as playing “Whack a Mole” – idea comes up and someone crushes it!)

Start with a well-phrased question, e.g. “How might we help [group] to [benefit]?”  Share the 7 ground rules to brainstorming and then let it rip!

Here are the 7 rules for brainstorming:

  1. Defer judgement
  2. Encourage wild ideas
  3. Build on others’ ideas
  4. Stay on topic
  5. One conversation at a time
  6. Be visual
  7. Go for quantity.

He then clarified that the first three are the most important while numbers 4 through 7 are more about “good citizenship.”

He also encouraged you to write the ideas on sticky notes with a Sharpie marker, saying “it forces you to headline the idea vs. drone on and on.”

I was also fascinated with the ground rule on “be visual” and he said, “There’s something about drawing something about your idea on the stickie.  Even a stick figure.  You’ll remember that idea in the sea of stickies.”

Got stuck?  Try these two questions to prime the pump:

  1. “If you could wave your magic wand to change one thing, what would it be?”
  2. “If you had all the money in the world to solve this issue, what would you do?”


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KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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