Generating Ideas 2: Preparing the Ground

Katherine William-Powlett shares her thoughts on innovation and on leadership in the voluntary sector. Katherine no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site for reference.

Before attempting to generate a lot of new ideas, it is critical to get your team into the right frame of mind. Once you are clear on where you need the ideas (see Generating Ideas 1), give some thought to setting up environment and expectations.

There is a mass of information available on how to do this but it really boils down to a few key points.  I’ve set them out for you here to save you trawling through the web.

Choose your group: think about who would be most valuable in a group generating ideas around your challenge (five to seven people  ideally). Make sure you have someone in the room who has the power to make decisions and implement them.

Sow the seed: Ideally make your group aware about a week in advance that you will be running a brainstorming session for new ideas on the specific challenge you have identified.  They do not need to do anything, but just planting it in their mind will lead to some subconscious thoughts that will help when the time comes.

Prepare the ground: You will need: a room the right size for your group with windows, if you can get one off-site even better; lots of wall space to stick up flip chart paper; good food; plenty of sticky notes big enough to write a sentence on; medium tip marker pens.

Agree the ground rules: Once you have your group in the room it is essential that they all approach the session in the right frame of mind.  Before you start with ideas generation tools (see future posts in this series) make the following clear.

  • Go for quantity Impress upon participants that they are aiming for lots and lots of ideas – it is only by getting the obvious ideas out first that the more creative breakthrough ideas will arise.
  • Hold off judgement It is important that participants understand that new ideas are fragile and can be crushed by being judged too early.  Give examples of what not to say such as “We’ve tried that…”, “That will never work…”.  It is even unwise to say “That’s a great idea!” because you may then put off someone who has not been given such approval.
  • Go wild Give people a licence to freewheel and go wild with their imagination, encourage them to combine ideas.
  • Look for novelty – for example seek combinations

Clear, concise, specific and readable- participants should be encouraged to write whole sentences, ideally on a sticky note


A small example.  A tyre manufacturer organised a brainstorm about methods of recycling tyres.  Someone suggested “Food!” Such a crazy idea could easily have been dismissed.  But the rules above were adhered to and the idea developed into Pup Treads, a popular chew toy for dogs.

What are your golden rules for a brainstorm?

See future posts in this series for idea generation tools.

Once you have a lot of good ideas, you need to select the  right ones in which to invest your time and energy  – Innovation Group LIVE! on 7 December will explore Selecting the Best Ideas

Katherine William-Powlett’s blog

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