Blue Sky Thinking
“Blue sky thinking” refers to activities we can use to come up with ideas, seemingly from nowhere and without limits. Blue sky thinking can involve spontaneous and improvisational thought or speech, or it can be more structured and methodical. It’s about getting away from the known, and the familiar and into a realm of new and innovative ideas.
Brainstorming works best when you closely follow a short list of rules:
- Set a time limit
- Brainstorms work best when they’re short. Twenty minutes forces everyone to work fast, and thirty minutes is a good maximum. If you get on a roll, its ok to go longer. Time pressure in a brainstorm pays off in multiple ways, including helping you focus on the next most important rule…
- Quantity over quality
- You’re not trying to come up with the right idea, you’re trying to capture all the ideas. You’ll pick the best ones later. Encourage everyone to say the first thing that comes into their mind. If your team likes competition, set a goal to come up with more ideas than you’ve ever come up with before. However, be warned this can descend into chaos if you don’t….
- Appoint a facilitator
- Put one member of the group in charge. They will be tasked with moving things along, contributing ideas to get the brainstorm started, and making sure that…
- Only one person speaks at a time
- This keeps the session energetic without becoming chaotic and gives the team members a chance to demonstrate respect for each other, developing trust. The facilitator should also make sure that…
- Everyone gets a chance to speak
- Good ideas can come from everyone on the team, but some people might be reluctant to speak up. A good facilitator will notice when someone wants to contribute but is having trouble jumping into the conversation.
- Write everything down
- The facilitator (or someone else) should capture all of the ideas. Writing the ideas on a whiteboard where everyone can see them is good, but a shared online document or writing in a notebook is fine too. Every last idea is worthy of being recorded, no matter how obvious or weird it seems.
- Welcome unusual ideas – weird the better
- This rule complements “quantity over quality.” In a brainstorm, we’re trying to get away from the familiar and enter fresh territory. An idea that seems unworkably strange could later prove to be a source of brilliant originality and innovation. The facilitator should regularly remind everyone of this rule, to help break down the social resistance that we all have to saying things that seem silly or odd.
- Say “yes, and” -combine and improve ideas
- This is a great way to keep things moving along – especially when your mind goes blank. Use the “yes, and” technique from improv theater by taking one of the earlier ideas and adding to it or modifying it.
- Don’t discuss ideas during the brainstorm.
- This rule is often very hard for analytical people like game designers to follow. We all want to start dissecting ideas as soon as we hear them, to see if they’re any good. Don’t do this during the brainstorm. The time for discussion comes later. For now, remember the time limit and focus on generating as many new ideas as possible.
Panning For Gold (Evaluating Brainstorm Results)
People often brainstorm and then never look at the results again. Instead, they focus on whatever ideas remain lodged in their memory. Turning a brainstorm into a strong project idea is like panning for gold – it takes time and attention.
Move your ideas into a spreadsheet and review them using whatever criteria are appropriate for you and your team. Some people find it useful to assign priorities to their ideas. Prioritizing our ideas helps us begin to make decisions in a way that isn’t threatening. We haven’t ruled anything out yet, we’re just shaping the direction.
If everyone on the team is excited about the same ideas, that’s great. If different people are excited about different things and can’t come to an agreement, then someone in a leadership position can help decide a direction. An important aspect of leadership is the ability to connect ideas to one another, and achieve a synthesis that the whole team is excited about.
Mind mapping is a more structured version of brainstorming and works well when you’ve arrived at a core concept that you want to explore in greater depth. Each new idea should be connected to the core idea or to another idea that is already written down.
Several techniques have been developed in an effort to explore the unconscious mind in pursuit of knowledge, art, and ideas free from restrictive social convention. One technique was called Automatism, where you simply sit down with a piece of paper and pencil, set a timer, and then keep writing. You can do this anywhere from 4 minutes to an hour. Don’t pause or hesitate; force yourself to transcribe whatever comes into your mind. Follow your stream of consciousness. If you do this honestly, it will be easy. Don’t review or analyze what you’re writing down or drawing until after the time is over.
A lot of what you set down will be nonsense or banal. That’s ok! Some of what you write may be very personal and surprising. It’s important that everyone should have the right to keep the results of an automatism exercise private. Some of what you wrote down will be interesting, unusual, or otherwise powerful. That’s the gold you’ve been in search of. If this doesn’t suffice for your brainstorming, you can still use it as a starting point.