I remember being on staff at a church where every Monday morning our senior pastor would ask if anyone had notes from the weekend.  Silence ensued.  Tumbleweed rumbled across the conference table.  Crickets chirped.  Even after prompting us, there was an uncomfortable silence that arrested the entire room.  We did not know how to answer the question our leader was asking in a way that was any different from the 52 weeks we’ve answered the question before.  This story is par for the course for many leaders in children’s and family ministry who engage in countless hours of brainstorming.

I’m sure you have spent several hours in ministry sitting around a table in uncomfortable silence, waiting for lightning to strike and the best idea to materialize but nothing happens.  Few ideas ever surface and at the end everyone goes back to do whatever comes to them at the last second.  We can do better at brainstorming and Daniel Pink (who borrows from Tom Kelly’s The Ten Faces of Innovation) has five rules that I’d like to share and expound on.

Rule Number 1: Go for Quantity.  Set a goal for the number of ideas you want to have.  I did this recently by categorizing brainstorm areas for a group and asked each person in the meeting put two ideas down for each area.  We ended up with 50+ ideas (which was my goal).  Also, if you set a numerical goal you will have way more ideas than you can use for your event and those ideas may negate the need for an additional brainstorm meeting down the road.

Rule Number 2: Encourage Wild Ideas.  In a meeting, I asked participants to brainstorm “Random” ideas.  They did not have to be associated with the event.  Give participants the freedom to think through ideas that are unexpected, random, and surprising.  Let participants know that they do not have to pare down the list – that happens later by the leader.

Rule Number 3: Be Visual. Unlock creativity with pictures, drawing, and graphic organizers.  Mindmaps are good places to start.  I’ve recently been experimenting with the principles on http://vizthink.com/ and from Austin Kleon (whose blog is a little rough around the edges, but his principles on drawing are amazing).

Rule Number 4: Defer Judgment.  This is the tough one.  No ideas are bad.  At my next brainstorming meeting, I’m going to play a clip from Imagination Movers (see below).  Laugh, have fun, and banish the naysayers.  I know several people who typically evaluate ideas with questions about how idea will not work.  It’s not a bad thing, just a personality thing.  It is okay to invite those people to brainstorming meetings, just explain the rules of how brainstorming does not work if people around the table are continually saying, “No.”

Rule Number 5: Please, One Conversation at at Time.  A great, effective idea is to have one person serve as the scribe and another person facilitate discussion.  Pretend you are in preschool and everyone needs to take a turn.