The World of Work Project

Silent Brainstorming

Silent Brainstorming (or silent storming) is a quick way for a group to come up with a lot of ideas about a topic. It’s a very simple exercise in which all participants spend a set amount of time (e.g. 5 minutes) silently and individually coming up with as many ideas as possible.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Silent Brainstorming

Silent brainstorming is a useful activity for quickly generating a lot of ideas in a group. The idea behind it is to make the most of the people you have involved in your idea process by getting them all to independently come up with as many ideas as they can at the same time.

This picture captures brainstorming quite well.

To use silent storming in a face to face group, provide everyone with a pad of post-it notes and a pen, then give them a problem statement and set them a time limit within which to silently and individually come up with as many ideas as possible.

For example you might say to a group of 10 participants:

we’re looking into what we could do do to make this team a better place to work, can you please silently brainstorm as many ideas as you can over the next two minutes?“.

You can get a lot of ideas in just two minutes.

At the end of the two minute process you’ll have a huge number of ideas. There will naturally be a fair amount of overlap between them, but the total number of ideas will be much higher than if you simply had a discussion.

Of course, having identified a lot of ideas doesn’t provide a solution. The next stage of the process requires an analysis of the ideas created and some prioritization among them (something simple like an Ease / Benefit matrix may help with this).

As a tip, it’s important to ensure that participants use a separate post-it note for each idea they come up with. This makes the next activities that you may do with these ideas much easier to complete.

We have framed this post around a problem solving type of activity, but the process clearly works in any situation where you are looking to generate a range of ideas from a group of people.

Advantages

Though silent brainstorming is a very simple process, it has several advantages.

  • It generates a lot of ideas
  • It’s a very quick process
  • It ensures that everyone gets the chance to contribute
  • It strengthens the voices of normally reserved individuals
  • It dampens the voices of normally loud individuals
  • It ensures you gather a lot of ideas before pursuing any specific ideas
  • It prevents conversations being captured by loud voices
Essential tools: pencil, paper and ideas.

The World of Work Project View

Silent brainstorming is a very simple process, but an essential tool that everyone who helps run meetings or facilitate workshops should know and be able to use comfortably.

It’s very powerful as both an ideation tool and as a facilitation tool. The fact that it engages everyone in the activity is very important. And because everyone has come up with ideas, it’s possible to get everyone to speak and to contribute by asking them to share their ideas once they’ve captured them.

Overall, we think this is an essential tool that’s simple and powerful on many levels.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

The contents of this post have been based on our own experience in work. There are many versions of this, or very similar tools available on the internet.

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