Snowballing

Snowballing is one of my favourite ways of clustering ideas or concepts when I’m working with groups.  It can be used in combination with brainstorming and it leads to the identification of themes in a large set of data.

It is particularly good for facilitating an equality of input, lessening the inhibition of individuals in group process, flexibility in the grouping of material, allowing for iteration, a bit of peace and quiet, and throwing up unexpected results, which appeals to my anarchistic tendencies.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAsmile

Process:

  1. Generation: Individuals write one idea, issue or concept relating to the subject under consideration onto post-it notes, one idea etc per post-it.  After a few minutes of generating post-its individually, the group (or facilitator) randomly place the post-its onto a large wall.  Then group members have another round of generating material having been inspired (hopefully!) by what colleagues have produced.
  2. Clustering: Silently (yes that means no talking!) the group members re-arrange the post-its on the wall/table into groupings.  Anyone is free to move any post-it, or rearrange clusters etc.  The idea is that the group will try various groupings/clusterings until there is an unspoken agreement on a final form and the process finishes. Expect “false-endings” when it appears to be over but sudden rearrangement by someone with a sudden insight…

The silence is important, at least for the first few minutes.  If one person explains why they have moved a post-it, others follow.  Silent clustering is more intuitive and allows more equal participation.  If there’s a near ding dong with a post-it getting passed back and forth between clusters, intervene.  Don’t arbitrate, just copy it.  You can’t be in two places at once but a post-it can (Hutchinson’s Fifth Law).

Once clustered – the group give a name to each cluster.

Variations:

  • Facilitator can read out all post-its having collected them in. Can iterate many or few times.
  • Facilitator or problem owner can intervene with more direction after each iteration.
  • Post-its can be placed on table as generated or kept individually in groups.
  • A “Plant” can seed ideas by putting in wacky suggestions etc (if you need to open up ideas)
  • Once clustered and named, each post-it could be numbered accordinGly, then the group could re-cluster into different grouping – this could be a way of moving from a traditional/safe approach to something more radical/innovative?
  • Technique can be mixed with others.
  • Experiment with what works for you.

Top Tip:  Remind participants to write with the glue at the top of the post-it!

All rights reserved © 2014 Andrew Hutchinson

11 Top Tips for a Successful Brainstorm

There is a right way and a wrong way to run a brainstorm or ideation meeting. A little preparation pays dividends. It is very important to separate the two phases of the meeting. The first part of the meeting is Idea Generation when you use divergent thinking. The second part is Idea Selection when you use convergent thinking. Here are my top tips for a meeting that will produce great ideas:

Before the Meeting:

1. Choose a diverse group. Six to ten people is ideal. If at all possible bring in some provocative outsiders to challenge the conventional thinking in your team.

2. Appoint a facilitator. Ideally the facilitator should be external to the group. They can use different techniques to manage the process. The manager is often a poor choice for this role as they cannot stop themselves shaping the content.

3. Meet offsite. Getting away from the office somehow helps to break conventional thinking. Unusual locations are good. I have run ideation meetings in a zoo, a museum, an art gallery and a castle.

Idea Generation Using Divergent Thinking

4. Suspend judgment. No-one is allowed to criticise or even discuss an idea. As ideas are expressed they are simply recorded. This can be done on post-its, lap-tops or flip charts but no fault-finding or comments are allowed to slow the process of idea flow.

5. Go for quantity. Quantity leads to quality in brainstorms so don’t stop until you have a large number of ideas – typically 60 to 100 or more.

6. Go beyond reason. Wild ideas are useful because they challenge boundaries and provoke other fresh ideas. It is easier to tame a wild idea than to inject something radical into a bland one.

7. Ride on other people’s Ideas. When one person suggests a creative concept others should chip in with extensions, developments and specific ways to make it happen. Piggyback on each other’s notions.

8. Displace people out of routine thinking. There are many good techniques to do this – one of my favorites is SCAMPER.

Idea Selection Using Convergent Thinking

9. Set criteria. Make an initial sift of the ideas using some broad criteria agreed with the group. For example we want ideas that will please customers, increase awareness and can be implemented in the next 12 months.

10. Discuss the short list. When you are down to say 10 or 12 good ideas then discuss them constructively. Sometimes there is a clear consensus as to which are the best. Sometimes you might want to vote to see which are the most popular. Whittle the list down to a handful of really good ideas.

11. Assign actions. Start the ball rolling by assigning follow-up actions for the best ideas. Add them to your to do list and make sure they are expedited. The brainstorm is worthwhile only if it delivers actions.

You should run regular brainstorm meetings with your team. They should be fun and motivational for people. They can deliver the ideas and innovations you need to transform your organization.

All rights reserved © 2013 Andrew Hutchinson