Effective Brainstorming: The Ultimate 10 Minute Exercise | Workshopper (2023)

One of the most common types of workshops that every designer will have to run in their lives is the plain and simple brainstorming workshop. There are literally billions of brainstorming workshop styles out there you can choose from, but most of them are completely broken and ineffective. They end up being big, messy discussions where the loudest person wins...

This is because many Brainstorming techniques don't take human-nature, implied hierarchies or even varied personalities into consideration. But not to worry, because we're about to revolutionise brainstorming for you. With this simple 10-minute exercise called "10 for 10", you will get great ideas on the table without all of the pointless discussion, frustration, and yelling.

Curious yet? Let's dive right in!

Workshop 10 For 10 Overview

Workshop outcome: A curated list of solutions and ideas for a challenge
Time: 10 minutes
Materials needed: A block of Square Sticky notes per person(any colour) + A sharpie per person + a Time Timer or similar visual timer + Voting Dots (any colour)
Minimum participants: 2
Maximum participants: 10 per table

Note: We talk a lot about 'the facilitator'. That's the person running the workshop, aka you!

Introduction to 10 For 10

10 for 10 is the fastest, easiest and most commonly used brainstorming method at AJ&Smart. It's lightweight, fun and super useful! The only thing you need to start a 10 for 10 session is a topic. Since you can use this method to brainstorm almost anything, there are very few limitations. But just to give you a little taste of what's possible with this simple but might exercise, here are a few examples:

  • Generating ideas for new features for an app
  • Generating ideas for new facebook ad copy
  • Generating headline ideas for a new landing page
  • Generating ideas to improve your office environment
  • Generating ideas for a company event

All you have to do as the facilitator of a 10 for 10 session is turn the topic you want to brainstorm into a "How Might We" phrased challenge. Or, in other words, rephrase whatever challenge or topic you have in mind into something that is actionable.

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So instead of the 10 for 10 session starting with something negative like: "We need to think of ways to fix this checkout flow" you rephrase it into something that offers more opportunity, like: "How Might We Improve the checkout flow."

Here are two more "How Might We" examples:

Effective Brainstorming: The Ultimate 10 Minute Exercise | Workshopper (1)

Step 1: Generate! (5 minutes)

Once you have a HMW written and your team agree on it, it's time to start your 10 for 10 session!

The key to this exercise is one of the core principles of every workshop we run at AJ&Smart, and also the core principle of the Design Sprint (a process invented by Jake Knapp and one of our favorite Workshop methods)... this principle is "Together Alone".

Together Alone means that, even though everyone will be working toward the same goal - everyone will be working toward it by themselves. Without discussion, without sharing, completely anonymously. This might feel uncomfortable for you and your team at first, as it's not how team usually work together but with time "Together Alone" will become the only way you want to work. To avoid the silence feeling awkward and weird during exercises, we suggest you put on some non-distracting workshoppy tunes, like these ones that we've gathered in our Spotify playlist:

Ok, back to the workshop: this section is all about Idea Generation and nothing else. It's not about good ideas, it's about having a lot of ideas. Yes, it's about Quantity NOT Quality! It's important to repeat that to your team members as they go through this section.

1. Give each team member a block of sticky notes and a sharpie

2. Tell each member to write as many ideas as they possibly can for the HMW challenge. One idea per Sticky note and with legible handwriting. Tell them that their ideas are going to be completely anonymous - so they shouldn't feel worried about writing bad ideas. They must write a minimum of 15 ideas but up to 20 is preferable. That might seem like a lot but remember the motto is "QUANTITY, not quality."

3. Set the timer to 5 minutes and let everybody write ideas in silence.

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4. BONUS Facilitation Tip: When you see any members getting stuck (look for people stopping writing and looking like they're thinking too much!) encourage them to keep on writing, even if their ideas feel fizzy. By virtue if putting pen to paper good ideas start emerging eventually.

5. Once the 5 minutes are up, tell everyone to stop what they are doing. For a more visual example of this in action, let's imagine we were working on the challenge: "HMW Get people excited about Workshops".

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Effective Brainstorming: The Ultimate 10 Minute Exercise | Workshopper (3)

Step 2: Curate! (1 minute)

Each team member should now have a juicy stack of ideas in front of them. Since we went for quantity over quality, at least 50% of these ideas won't even be usable (and that's a-OK!). The next step will be the first pass at finding the most promising ideas. Here are the next steps:

1. Ask each member to choose their favourite 10 ideas from their stack of ideas.

2. Each member should now discard all their non-chosen ideas... as in, throw them out!

3. Once each member has chosen their 10, they should stick them up on a wall/whiteboard/whatever surface is available. Everyone sticks their sticky notes to the same surface at random.

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4. The participants should NOT group or arrange the sticky notes. In fact, mix them up as much as possible. To be clear: everyone's favorite 10 ideas will be mixed together randomly on the same surface. Just stick em' up!

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Step 3: Vote! (3 minutes)

Now let's try to figure out which ideas the team thinks are the most promising. In a normal brainstorming process this would be a circular discussion with no end-point. In 10 for 10 it's just part of the process.

1. As the facilitator, remove any duplicated ideas from the surface. No discussion required, just remove them.

2. Give each team member a strip of 10 voting dots.

3. Tell them to silently vote on the ideas they think are the most promising, reminding them of the HMW challenge. Voting rules: Participants can put as many dots as they like on one idea. They can vote on their own ideas. They cannot ask for further explanation of an idea, if it doesn't make sense - skip it.

4. Participants must also use all of their 10 dots in the 3 minutes, so tell them to go with their gut feeling rather than scrutinising every idea. Put a 3 minute timer on this so that the participants don't over think.

Effective Brainstorming: The Ultimate 10 Minute Exercise | Workshopper (5)

It's important to point out that this voting process is NOT about accuracy. Of course, there is a bias to put your dots where other dots are already. The point here is to force people to actually read the ideas by having them focus on voting. The voting also gives us a loose idea of which ideas the team members like the best. It's not scientific, but it reduces the need for conversation.

Step 4: Arrange! (1 minute)

The final part of 10 for 10 is simply about visualising the results of the voting.

Effective Brainstorming: The Ultimate 10 Minute Exercise | Workshopper (6)

Reorganise the voted-on ideas on your surface so that the ideas with the most votes are at the top and the ideas with no votes are removed from the board.

What you now have visualised in front of you is 10 (or less if you're lucky!) ideas that your team thinks have a good chance of solving for the HMW challenge set at the beginning of the exercise. Cutting your brainstorming time and transforming it into solid ideas with the potential to move forward on.


That's it!

Now imagine trying to get to those 10 ideas with a normal discussion. Very likely one of the participants would have taken up 10 minutes talking about just one idea, the discussion would go in circles, and everyone would leave the meeting frustrated.

Would the ideas have been as varied? Very unlikely: as soon as people start discussing, the ideas all bleed into each other, reducing variety.

10 for 10 forces a team to think quick, to be brutal with their curation, and get less attached to specific ideas. Idea generation should be lightweight and fast, especially for things that shouldn't require hours of discussion.

10 for 10 is great for getting a read on what solutions are in the room and what ideas people have in their minds but would find it difficult to articulate in a conversation. It's also a fantastic warm-up exercise before jumping into something more serious like Lightning Decision Jam or Design Sprint.

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Why don't you take it for a test run? With your client, your team or even your family. Is there something you've been stuck on? It only takes 10 minutes to see how powerful something like this can be in practice!

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What is brainstorming exercise? ›

A brainstorming exercise is an activity intended to help people come up with new ideas. They may help individuals or teams devise creative plans, collaborate effectively or solve problems cleverly. Brainstorming exercises can help people move away from their normal way of thinking and consider new possibilities.

How do you facilitate a brainstorming exercise? ›

Summary and conclusion
  1. Prepare for the session — create an agenda and define a shared space.
  2. Define your topic — be as clear and specific as possible.
  3. Set ground rules so that everyone is comfortable and knows how to participate.
  4. Use a proven brainstorming technique.
  5. Organize your ideas, define and assign next steps.
Oct 6, 2022

What is the most effective way to brainstorm start a brainstorming session? ›

How to organize a successful brainstorming session
  1. Define the problem. The first step should be to determine a problem question that the brainstorming session will address. ...
  2. Lay out the context and definitions. ...
  3. Pick an appropriate facilitator. ...
  4. Invite the right people. ...
  5. Set the agenda. ...
  6. Holding the session.

What are the 3 rules of brainstorming? ›

When he implemented brainstorming within his own advertising agency, he identified the following core principles:
  • Rule #1: Generate as many ideas as possible during the session. ...
  • Rule #2: Criticizing ideas is not allowed. ...
  • Rule #3: Wild and ambitious ideas are welcome.

What are the 4 brainstorming tips? ›

4 Important Tips For Making This Brainstorming Process Work
  • Don't think, just act. Go with your gut when judging ideas. ...
  • Focus on quantity first, then edit for quality. Letting yourself free write ideas loosens up your creative muscles. ...
  • Monitor your success. ...
  • Don't take it personally if your ideas get shot down.
Jan 6, 2017

What is an example of a brainstorming technique? ›

Stepladder Technique

Here, two members are invited to a room to brainstorm, with a facilitator present. Then, a third member enters and shares his or her ideas before being introduced to the ideas shared by the other two members. Brainstorming continues this way until everyone is in the room.

Which is the most popular method of brainstorming? ›

Brain-netting has become a popular brainstorming technique in the modern workspace, where virtual collaboration and remote teams are much more common. Email communication can be effective but can take too much time and can be more formal than needed.

What is the most important rule of brainstorming? ›

Rule #1: Every Idea Matters

One of the critical aspects of a successful brainstorming session is everyone feeling comfortable sharing their ideas. This means that no voice reigns supreme over the others, and no ideas are shot down before they're proposed.

What should be avoided in brainstorming? ›

Here are some common brainstorming blunders to avoid:
  • The facilitator isn't properly trained. ...
  • The participants aren't prepared. ...
  • The right employees aren't invited. ...
  • The question or problem being explored is unclear or off-target. ...
  • The scheduled time isn't sufficient. ...
  • Lack of follow-through.
Apr 1, 2016

What are the two phrases of brainstorming? ›

In conclusion, there are two main phases in brainstorming and workshop sessions – expansion and contraction of ideas and divergence of groups followed by convergence.

What are the two common methods used for brainstorming ideas? ›

Round Robin Brainstorming: Round Robin is a traditional brainstorming method where team members sit in a circle and a topic is shared, then everyone gets a turn to share an original idea. Rapid Ideation: this brainstorming technique involves getting team members to churn out ideas within a set time limit.

What can ruin a brainstorm? ›

Having no clear objectives

A brainstorming session with a vague or unclear purpose will wander and lose its way. So be sure set a clear objective for your meeting. The purpose of the brainstorming session is to generate many creative ideas to answer a specific goal. It is best to express the goal as a question.

What is a common mistake people make during brainstorming? ›

A common mistake during brainstorming sessions is working with a lousy focus question. Participants are asked to generate creative ideas for a dull challenge and matters are made worse by the poor way in which the boring question is phrased. Afterwards, people realise that the real issue hasn't really been addressed.

What are the 4 types of questions for a better brainstorming? ›

4 Types of Questions for Better Brainstorming
  • Observational Questions. The first type of question focuses on what participants experience with their senses. ...
  • Reflective Questions. This type of question can be easy to miss. ...
  • Interpretive Questions. ...
  • Decisional Questions.
May 31, 2017

What is a short example of brainstorming? ›

The mind map is a perfect example of brainstorming. You can solve complex problems based on the central idea and define its related themes with a mind map. A mind map is a helpful tool for teachers because they use it to improve the information gathering and writing skills of their students.

What are the four 4 rules used in the brainstorming process? ›

The four rules of brainstorming are: Focus on quantity. NO criticism. Encourage wild ideas.

What is the golden rule of brainstorming? ›

Rule #1: Every Idea Matters

This means that no voice reigns supreme over the others, and no ideas are shot down before they're proposed. This is easy to say but often hard to implement—a brainstorming environment, both digital and in-person, can be overwhelming and judgmental at times.

What is the secret to successful brainstorming? ›

CLEARLY DEFINE THE PROBLEM. Brainstorms are most effective when they are trying to solve a specific problem -- not just to “come up with an idea.” The problem should be written out and prominently displayed before anyone starts thinking.

What is the key to successful brainstorming? ›

Set a clear goal.

Make sure you actually have a reason to brainstorm, and that every member of the group knows exactly what you want to accomplish. You should have a particular problem to solve or a specific question to answer that will benefit from a diverse perspective.

What are two 2 basic rules of the classic brainstorming process? ›

As formulated by brainstorming's “founder,” Alex Osborn (1963), brainstorming sessions must follow four rules to be most productive: (1) no evaluation or criticism of ideas is permitted, to ensure that people are more concerned to generate, rather than defend, ideas; (2) participants are encouraged to suggest the most ...

Which one is not one of the rules of brainstorming? ›

Answer and Explanation: The correct answer is (C) freewheeling is encouraged. When conducting a formal brainstorming session, all the other rules provided above are applied apart from freewheeling.

What are some brainstorm words? ›

  • deliberate.
  • analyze.
  • conceive.
  • conceptualize.
  • create.
  • invent.
  • plan.
  • ponder.


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