LearnShareProsper logo Boosting Business_Performance Adele Sommers
by Adele Sommers, Ph.D.
 www.LearnShareProsper.com Adele@LearnShareProsper.com 
In This Issue

August 2017
Volume 13, Issue 8

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Below find this month’s newsletter, hot off the press!

  • Feature Article: Go Beyond Brainstorming
    with a Breakthrough Follow-up Technique

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Note from the Author

Turbocharge Your Brainstorming Results

Team conducting a brainstorming meeting with these guidelines, "Be wildly creative, offer many ideas, and not criticizing." How do you turn time-wasting, profit-stealing meeting chaos into profit-boosting outcomes? This is a topic that occasionally needs some helpful reminders, reinforcements, plus occasional new perspectives.

One method involves using a highly focused and systematic approach to brainstorming to ensure that your meetings produce more and better ideas than you ever imagined.

Effective brainstorming is not always an intuitive process, as demonstrated by the many folks who really struggle with using it meaningfully.

Many creative problem-solving sessions begin with a classic process for gathering ideas that you might be very familiar with. But how they end can make all the difference between successful, innovative solutions and suboptimal, dead-end outcomes.

That’s why today’s newsletter focuses on both the start of the process and a very powerful follow-up technique that works especially well for challenges that defy typical discussion methods. It may not be necessary for most routine matters, but when it’s needed, it works like a charm!

So, I hope you enjoy this month’s features, and as always, please be sure to join the ongoing conversations by leaving your comments on my Facebook page!

Here’s to your business prosperity,

Adele Sommers, Ph.D., business improvement specialist, author, educator, and award-winning instructional designer

P.S. If you missed any previous issue, please visit the newsletter archive!

Special Message

Can Making Toast Improve Your Creativity?

Video link to Tom Wujec's TED talk, "Can Making Toast Improve Your Creativity?"Tom Wujec’s online bio tells us that he studies how we share and absorb information. He’s been an innovative practitioner of business visualization, using both design and technology to help people solve problems and understand ideas.

His area of expertise came to my attention recently because he gave a fascinating TED presentation on creativity a few years ago, framing his talk around how people explain their process for making toast.

As the presentation’s description explains, “Making toast doesn’t sound very complicated — until someone asks you to draw the process, step by step. Tom Wujec loves asking people and teams to draw how they make toast, because the process reveals unexpected truths about how we can solve our biggest, most complicated problems at work. Learn how to run this exercise yourself, and hear Wujec’s surprising insights from watching thousands of people draw toast.”

His talk is a perfect prelude to the subject of brainstorming, and adds a new twist to several of the techniques in the feature article, below. Enjoy!

Feature Article

Go Beyond Brainstorming with a
Breakthrough Follow-up Technique

by Adele Sommers

People participating in a brainstorming exerciseHow do you get people to come up with truly extraordinary ideas?

When you need to summon people’s imaginations to design a system, bring new insights to a thorny problem, conjure up themes for a new campaign, or revitalize a lackluster program, what would you and your team do? You’d usually brainstorm, right?

Especially if your purpose is to explore a fairly complex, unfamiliar, or fuzzy problem that requires novel thinking, using this method can yield unexpectedly creative and powerful results.

One reason why this technique works so well is that it uses a highly inclusive approach to working with divergent contributions, and doesn’t discard any ideas.

The process begins with classic brainstorming, as described next. It then flows into a silent follow-up technique that produces fresh, unanticipated idea combinations and also blends dissimilar inputs into a cohesive whole.

Ready to try it? Great! Let’s go...

Part 1: Collect ideas from everyone.

This first step involves the traditional process for gathering everyone’s ideas.


Set a time limit for your brainstorming, such as 30 minutes or more, and state the purpose of the session. Try to use neutral, unbiased wording to inspire a full spectrum of ideas.


Establish guidelines that encourage everyone to take part, regardless of their role or rank. For example, if you start by going around the room to gather initial input from each person, you’ll ensure that every participant makes at least one contribution.

Emphasize that no one should discuss, analyze, critique, or disparage what anyone else offers in the way of ideas, other than to perhaps request a brief clarification of the meaning.


Encourage people to be highly creative and come up with unusual, wild, and even “crazy” ideas. They can jot their ideas down as well as state them aloud for someone else to record.

Checkmark Recapture each input on a sticky note or a card so that it can later be moved around. For clarity, use a short sentence or phrase to represent the idea rather than just one or two words. Similarly, avoid writing an entire paragraph of details.

Part 2: Silently begin grouping the ideas.

After conducting a classic brainstorming session per the guidelines above, do the following to quietly group the ideas into what is called an “Affinity Diagram.”

Be sure that the ideas are recorded on physical note cards or sticky notes for the procedure below, which may require 30 minutes or more to complete. Remember that there should be no talking, commenting, whispering, or thinking out loud!

Checkmark Display the idea cards or notes in a random arrangement. Whether you’re placing the idea notes on a wall or on a flat surface, just be sure that they are as mixed up as possible.


Mobilize the entire group. Have all of the participants position themselves around the idea display area. Ensure that everyone takes part, but without any discussion or talking to oneself.


Begin silently moving the ideas around. Ask people to scan the ideas and freely place individual cards near any other cards that seem to “relate.” (That’s what the term “affinity” means in the name “Affinity Diagram.”) There are no logical criteria for arranging cards this way. Deciding which ideas relate to each other can occur based on gut-level instinct rather than logic.

In fact, the less thinking involved, the better! That’s why very quick reactions work best. You’re seeking brand new thought patterns. Those usually don’t arise unless you use a different part of the brain.


Keep moving the ideas around until they’re all grouped.
Don’t succumb to the temptation of letting someone in authority categorize them in a hierarchy or in some other obvious pattern.

If someone moves an idea away from the spot where you’ve placed it, don’t argue — but do be undiplomatic by silently moving it back, if you feel that it belonged where it was. Note, however, that all of the other participants have the same option! That way, no one can “pull rank” in this exercise.

Keep the process going until all ideas have found homes in groupings of 6–10, and everyone feels satisfied with where they have landed. Sometimes there will be a few stray cards left over that might not fit anywhere, and that’s perfectly fine.

Note: Team satisfaction will come from the idea arrangement “feeling right,” rather than from it “making sense.”

Part 3: Create headings for the grouped ideas.

Whew! The most challenging part — the silent idea grouping — is complete, and it’s time to talk. However, you aren’t going to discuss the individual ideas. You’re simply going to agree on the headings that best summarize each idea grouping in your Affinity Diagram.


Select a descriptive phrase for each grouping. Sometimes an existing card will fully describe the theme of its entire grouping. If so, it can then become the heading.

When there is no such card, have the participants suggest a short, expressive phrase that clearly communicates what that grouping represents.

Place a card or sticky note containing the heading label above each grouping. When two or more groups relate to one another, you can create a “super-header label” for them.

Checkmark Evaluate the heading labels for clarity and quality. Can those labels convey the meaning of each grouping to someone who didn’t take part in the exercise? Be sure each heading phrase contains a clear descriptor rather than fuzzy or jargon-filled wording.

Example of brainstorming ideas before grouping and after grouping and labeling

Part 4: Decide what should happen next.

So, what do you do with these idea groupings? The answer depends on the nature of the problem and where the team landed with the exercise.

The Affinity Diagram alone might be enough to stimulate an all-new approach to the issue, where each grouping might represent its own action strategy. Or, it could be the first of several stages of exploring the ideas in more depth. If you do decide to continue the process, here are some possible next steps:


Continue with other participants. Especially if the issue affects others, such as fellow team members, functions, or departments, you can engage them in a continuation of this exercise. Carefully roll up and transport the diagram to an accessible location where the others can visit it. It might reside in a hallway, a break room, or cafeteria, for example.

If it’s possible to leave the diagram there for a while, such as a week or longer, you and your colleagues can continue to add ideas, move the ideas around, or keep regrouping them until either the time runs out or the activity simply winds down.


Continue with other tools. Whether or not you’ve continued working with the idea groupings, you and your team might wish to explore various other angles related to the issue at hand. For example, you may want to look for cause-and-effect relationships or create a prioritized plan of action.

For more information on continuation tools you can use, refer to the Memory JoggerTM II, from GoalQPC.com.

In conclusion,
the power of this exercise lies in its ability to preserve all ideas and let them influence the big picture from unique and unpredictable viewpoints. Many teams find this to be a potent and refreshing way to honor the creative spirit of all members. Absent are quibbles over semantics and any filtering mechanisms, which can result in discarding potential solutions.

By combining classic brainstorming techniques with a silent grouping and labeling process, your team can manifest creative ideas that lead to breakthrough solutions!

Copyright 2017 Adele Sommers

The Author Recommends

The “Meeting Success Kit”

Guide to Running Highly Focused, Compelling MeetingsWould you like to transform your meetings from “profit stealers” to “profit boosters”? Why not make it your goal to eliminate those dysfunctional meetings, once and for all — even if you’re not the person running them!

You can do it with my “how-to” tools for making meetings hum and participants sing on key. No more sharps or flats to worry about with my Meeting Success Kit by your side.

This expanded edition delivers seven powerful step-by-step checklists; “guerrilla techniques” for diplomatically handling meeting challenges from the sidelines; in-depth case studies that can help you erase meeting headaches forever; and 62 minutes of MP3 audio with a full transcript.

About the Author

"Straight Talk" Special Report
"Straight Talk" Workbook

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of “Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance” — an award-winning Special Report and Workbook program.

If you liked today’s issue, you’ll love this down-to-earth overview of how 12 potent business-boosting strategies can reenergize the morale and productivity of your enterprise, tame unruly projects, and attract loyal, satisfied customers. It’s accompanied by a step-by-step workbook designed to help you easily create your own success action plan. Browse the table of contents and reader reviews on the description page.

Adele also offers no-cost articles and resources to help small businesses and large organizations accelerate productivity and increase profitability. Learn more at LearnShareProsper.com.

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