Brainstorming techniques… it is time for Science Fair ideas!

The Rules of Successful Brainstorming

By following a few simple rules, any child can dramatically improve his or her brainstorm skills:

Go for quantity. The best way to come up with brilliant ideas is to have a ton of them. As ideas accumulate, the process will snowball. Make the volume of ideas visible by covering the wall with sticky notes.

Headline, and then pass the ball. Get to the point. Express, don’t explain. Brainstorms thrive on energy. 

Encourage wild ideas. It’s much easier to find a nugget of brilliance in a wild, impractical idea than to make mundane ideas brilliant.

Build on the ideas of others. You’re not building a ship in a bottle—brainstorming is more like playing hot potato. By acknowledging the ideas of others and building on them, the brainstorm will gain momentum.

Defer Judgment! Turn off the filters. Generating ideas and evaluating ideas are two different processes, and nothing kills a brainstorm faster than telling someone their idea “won’t work.” Remember, it’s equally important not to judge your own ideas too harshly!

Think visual. We don’t think with words alone. Sometimes breakthrough ideas can’t be immediately expressed in words, so give other avenues a chance: sketch your ideas. The images might spur your brainstorm partner to make associations you never thought of. And, if you make a few sketches, your whiteboard will be much prettier by the end of the session!

Stay focused on one conversation at a time. Brainstorms are a high-energy activity, but they shouldn’t be disorganized. Table the side conversations for later.

Categorize, then vote or rank to carry multiple ideas forward. It’s not enough to throw brainstorm ideas up on the board and choose the best—the team needs to make sense of what it’s uncovered. Find patterns by categorizing ideas in different buckets. Use multiple-category voting so that the team can act on the aggregate knowledge of the group, not just the “best idea.” (Read more about voting in upcoming posts.)

Check out these videos to learn more about the dos and don’ts of brainstorms.

Stay tuned for more about creating a productive brainstorming environment in the next post. Jim Ratcliffe is a Bay Area designer and educator with a Master’s Degree from the Learning, Design, and Technology program at Stanford University. He has been involved in education and curriculum development since 1998, and he’s taught at the Stanford d.School’s K-12 Lab.