WHY ARE WE HERE?
We are here to explore our creativity, our capacity for generating ideas and our problem-solving talents. We’ll also discover the incredible wisdom, humor and generosity of the women in the room. Even if you don’t leave with the definitive answer to your question, you can be sure of leaving with new insights, new ways of asking the question, and a sense of unlimited possibilities. Don’t censor what you think are laughable ideas – laughter fuels the process. The ridiculous often leads to the sublime.
WHAT DO WE DO and HOW DO WE DO IT?
First, each person in the room introduces herself by name and makes a brief (one minute) statement answering the question “What’s up for me right now?” (Please don’t interrupt the check-in process with questions.)
During the check-in process, think if you have a question you want to brainstorm and if you want help formulating your question. We’ll help you when it’s your turn.
There will be time for several rounds of brainstorming each evening. When the group is large, it may not be possible to brainstorm everyone’s question. After the check-in, each person who has a question will pick a card to determine the order. (NOTE: use one suit from a regular deck of cards.)
Those who pick the seven or eight lowest numbers will probably be able to brainstorm their questions that evening. We’ll take four or five minutes to formulate each question and five minutes to brainstorm it. (NOTE: You’ll need a timer for this and the next few steps.)
Next, this is your chance to ask questions about any kind of issue – work, family, personal; serious or lighthearted. While we’re gathering information to help you formulate your question, tell us the most relevant points, not a long story. Once the question sounds right to you, sit back and let the group do its work.
Then people will call out action ideas in brief sentences or phrases, following the brainstorming guidelines below. Brainstorms may suggest a person to call, an organization to contact, a resource to read, an action step or a completely new ‘take’ on your question.
During the brainstorming, the facilitator may need to interrupt to say “please tell her what to do” or “no stories, please.” (See Guidelines, below.) This is not meant to be rude; it serves to keep the brainstorming moving so for that five minutes the person whose question we’re brainstorming has the benefit of as many different ideas as possible. While we’re brainstorming, the timekeeper will announce the time in a loud, firm voice (or your timer will beep).
During the brainstorming, the recorder will use her laptop to write down each question and every response to it; she may ask us to repeat ideas or slow down. She also may ask others to help with the process. Unless otherwise requested, each brainstorm will have the name and email of the person who asked the question. That way, the brainstorming can include people who were not at the meeting. Your brainstorms will be emailed to you. (If no laptop is available, then people take turns handwriting brainstorms for one another and the person who asked the question will go home with the sheet of recorded brainstorms.)
GUIDELINES FOR CREATIVE BRAINSTORMING:
(NOTE: I read these guidelines at every time, and emphasize “not telling stories when you’re making a suggestion”. That admonition helps us remember not to slow down the process with personal anecdotes.)
- don’t tell stories when you’re making a suggestion
- give only one brief action idea per turn
- no questions during brainstorming
- honor this safe space; don’t criticize ideas – including your own
- outrageously impudent suggestions are encouraged
- piggyback on previous ideas
- offer alternatives to ideas you think are not appropriate
- if you think of an idea after the brainstorming is over, email your idea to the person who asked the question.
- respect the speaker; don’t interrupt
- In this room, in this circle, there are NO WRONG ANSWERS
- There are no expectations concerning what you do with your list.
- PLEASE don’t tell stories when you’re making a suggestion!!
If it’s your question that’s being brainstormed, just take it all in.
–hear the information as new -even if it isn’t.
(NOTE: Add your own guidelines if you like.)
FORMULATING THE QUESTION
We spend only 4 or 5 minutes on “formulating a question.” This helps people consider new ways of approaching an issue. Some examples:
“I have a wonderful service to offer but I don’t know how to get customers or clients.”
In the process of formulating a question we let the person talk BRIEFLY about the problem/issue and often interrupt with questions like:
Who is your ideal client? Would you be willing to travel to reach a different audience? What sets your service apart from others like it?
Then we feed it back in the form of a simple open question, e.g.
“How can I market my services more effectively??”
For some people, it seems helpful to narrow the question.
They might want to ask:
“How can I get along better with my significant other?”
And we might ask if she’d be willing to focus on the question:
“What’s the best way of starting a conversation with my significant other about our relationship?”
For some people we suggest that they broaden the question –
“Where should I move when I retire?”
And we suggest “What are some things to think about before selecting a retirement city.”
Then we check with the person to see if this new formulation feels OK and gets to the heart of her question. And we quickly move to brainstorming.
There may not be time to brainstorm everyone’s question. There may be questions someone’s not ready to ask. But just being at the Brain Exchange, in the presence of so much creative energy, can stimulate creative thinking and generate new solutions for everyone in the room.