Combining boxes

Plan a brainstorming session with at least 10 diverse people. Really shake up the diversity in every way you can. And the more people involved the better. I’ve done this technique successfully with as many as 75 people.

Be sure to tell everyone ahead of time what the purpose of the brainstorming meeting is and that they should come prepared with at least a few ideas.

Early in your meeting have everyone rip off a big piece of easel paper and write their very best idea for the brainstorming topic at the top of the page. Make sure there’s plenty of room below their idea to write additional ideas.

Have them hang their papers on the walls around the room and stand in front of them.

Ask everybody to slide over one space to their right so that they’re standing in front of the idea next to them. Tell the participants to read the idea written at the top and then add to or improve the original idea, writing their contribution below it.

Next, have everybody slide over TWO spaces – not just one! You don’t want the same person continually following the thought process of the person in front of them. You’re trying to mix up the mental frameworks – mash up the boxes!

Tell them to write a better idea based on what’s on the page so far, and then have everybody slide again. This time count off three spaces. Read what has been written so far and add to it or improve it once again.

You can repeat this process another four or five times until every page is full of ideas.

Have each participant go back to their original idea, read the entire page, and circle the best idea.

This is when the magic happens. About 95 percent of the time, the best idea they circle is not their original idea! In less than 30 minutes you can turn all of your good ideas into great – perhaps even breakthrough – sparks of innovation.

This idea of “combining boxes” shows why diversity is so important. You don’t want to do this exercise when everybody is a numbers-type or creative-type, or even all of a certain age or cultural heritage. The more “boxes” you combine, the better the results. Always!

Combining boxes doesn’t have to occur on a team. For me, it’s an everyday process where I talk to people who are willing to build ideas with me. 

From “Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds” by Mark Schaefer