A Unique creative brainstorming and ideation approach developed by yes&
We’ve all been there: The well-meaning brainstorm that becomes a tempest of “nope,” “can’t,” and “impossible.” It’s quite natural—the team is trying to protect itself from scope creep, budget overruns, and outsized level of effort—or they’re worried about being “wrong.” They’re playing defense, so they narrow their thinking. Ideas are either not shared or eliminated as soon as they are. Rather than a lot of great ideas, the team is left with the last one standing—and it’s often something they've done before. And then there’s &Storming.
The Need for Creative Ideation in a Hybrid Working World
Collaboration powers our work. And fruitful collaboration has become much more challenging in an increasingly virtual work environment. We miss the old days, when we stood outside our office’s collaboration spaces, humbled by the problems we faced and excited because we knew, on the other side of that door, we’d find the answers. No one knew them alone; we’d discover them together. Once we began to work from home, it got harder. In our own little rooms in towns across the country, we feel isolated. It’s very hard to think outside the box when trapped in a little box on the screen. At Yes&, we needed a spark. So, we brainstormed … And, together, we discovered &Storming … an answer to our collaboration problem.
&Storming: A Way to “Shake the Tree”
&Storming is an additive ideation tool and an altogether positive process. It opens our door to new voices and perspectives, and our minds to new, innovative, and otherwise unimagined ideas. All &Storms start with a problem to be solved and are structured to generate a high quantity of ideas—the more, the better. However, an &Storm is NOT the single source of creative ideation, nor the time to flesh out details or work through feasibility.
Generally, having 6-10 participants—or “&Stormers”—is ideal, with one facilitator. The &Stormers should offer a variety of strengths and skills; they may include someone who knows very little about the project or client. There’s a benefit to that. And spontaneity helps. So, the only preparation required is the time it takes to open the mind more fully, then let the stream of consciousness flow.
Origins in Design Thinking + Improv + Agile
The best innovations come from connecting existing dots in new ways. We crafted &Storming with three inspirational systems in mind:
Design Thinking: A non-linear, human-centered problem-solving approach that challenges assumptions, redefines problems, and creates innovative solutions.
Improv Theater: A form of live theatre in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up in the moment—using a “Yes, and” approach to accept what others have stated and expand on that thinking.
Agile Methodology: A project management approach to succeeding in uncertain environments, which prioritizes constant collaboration, adaptiveness, responding to change, and continuous improvement.
Setting the Stage: Ground Rules
There are key ground rules that guide successful &Storms:
- Yes … And. Build on others’ ideas.
- Defer judgment. Try to avoid “buts,” “nos,” or “can’ts” or criticizing ideas.
- Prioritize quantity. Quality will come as ideas are built upon, prioritized, and refined after brainstorming. Worry about that later.
- Stay focused. Have one conversation at a time and give everyone a chance to contribute.
- Play! Encourage wild ideas. Embrace incongruous thought. If you think something, say something. No ideas are bad ideas in an &Storm.
The Playground: Mural
To create the most fruitful brainstorming environment in a virtual setting, we use Mural—an intuitive digital whiteboard built for teams to do their best work together. We’ve set up a specialized Mural Board optimized for &Storming.
The “Yes” Round
The first ideation round is the “Yes” round. We acknowledge the challenge to be solved. We say “yes” to it. And the fun begins, with the entire team offering ideas on teal cards in the Mural Board (as you can see in the image). In the spirit of Agile, each idea is read aloud as the card is placed in the “Sandbox.” As ideas are shared, participants can build on them, twist them, turn them upside down, and generally ask, “What if …?”
The “&” Rounds
To shake things up further and provide &Stormers with a new frame of reference for their ideas—encouraging the really wild “& ideas” (on pink Mural cards)—we execute short sprints that leverage different prompts. We get participants thinking in ways they may never have considered. These hypothetical prompts are like mini-games, such as:
- Alter Egos: Come up with ideas from a different point-of-view, be it a person, company, or character. How might Elon Musk, Harry Potter, Disney, or Old Spice solve this problem?
- Get You Fired: Come up with ideas that, if executed, would get you (and/or your client) fired. This encourages the team to push the boundaries of their own thinking, shaking off assumptions.
- Imagine a World: Come up with ideas in the context of something odd or with some kind of constraint, like “no internet” or “without the ability to see.” After all, limitations often force us to think creatively!
Grouping, Voting, Next Steps, Roadmapping
You should have a lot of ideas, or partial ideas, or fragments of an idea. Now what? Once ideas have been generated and iterated, it’s helpful to start grouping them into themes, moving ideas around in the Mural Board. Whether or not you have time to do that, you want to end the session by giving your &Stormers a chance to give their input and opinions on what ideas they like best. Using icons in Mural, give each participant 4-6 “votes” by letting them put icons next to the ideas that they believe best solve the problem.
From there, you’ll have a large set of imaginative ideas, everyone’s thoughts on which ideas they liked best, and a foundation upon which you can build the rest of your creative ideation. Don’t forget—once you align on the ideas to move forward with and refine, you’ll want to Roadmap the steps it will take to bring them to life.
If you’re interested in trying an &Storm for your organization, we have a set of experienced &Storm facilitators at Yes& who can help you unearth the “Power of &.” Please reach out!
Subscribe to The Ampersand newsletter for more insights from Yes&: