Posted by: Justin Wallace | January 4, 2010

The Art of Brainstorming pt1

The beginning of a new year means the beginning of a new semester. The beginning of a new semester opens the door for new opportunities, new ministry ideas, new ___________. I like new beginnings. I’m a starter. So, the beginning of each semester gets me excited. I hope this new semester brings a new sense of excitement for you and your team!

With a new semester comes the opportunity for new ideas. So, for the next 4 weeks on Monday’s we’re going to talk about The Art of Brainstorming. I’ve asked some of my friends that I believe are excellent at this art to join the conversation. Just a heads up…Benson Hines will be writing next week. We hope to share some practical ideas that will help your team brainstorm. Every idea won’t work for you…but maybe over the next 4 weeks there will be something that makes you say, “Yes! That’s our team. That’s what we needed.”

To be honest I wasn’t very good at The Art of Brainstorming. I’m great at having ideas. I’m great about sharing my ideas. If I was the only one on my team I would be a master of this art. The problem is that I have other people on my team that have ideas and want their ideas to be heard and used. I was terrible at listening to other’s ideas (My team would tell you I’m still a work in progress) and then I read an incredible book called Leadership Coaching by Tony Stoltzfus. If you want to be a great leader of teams and you want to be a master listener, it’s a must read in my opinion. It helped me so much. Here’s a couple things I learned that helped me lead brainstorming sessions with my team.

1. People can solve their own problems.
This is a shift from a diagnostic, advice-giving approach where one leader figures out what the issue is and solves it, to a curiosity-based, asking method where a team see’s an issue and then brainstorms how to solve the the issue together. I’ve had to learn and believe that my team can solve a problem. They might not solve it the way I would. They might take a bit longer to solve the problem. But, they can solve it.

2. Ask, don’t tell
If you’re like me, you have ideas all day long. I would have an idea for a retreat and would end up planning the whole thing in a day. I have an idea and then I run with it. Then I would come to my team and say, “This is what we’re going to do. This is what it will look like. This is what I need you to do to make it happen.” I never could figure out why they would just sit and stare at me. It was because it was my idea and they didn’t have anything invested in it. I told them what was going to happen…I didn’t ask them for input. To lead a good brainstorming session you must ask, don’t tell.

3. Let the team do the thinking.
As the leader it is your job to create an environment for free exploration. Setting them free to dream, create, think and share out loud. This is where it becomes very practical for me. When I’m leading a brainstorming session I come to the table with the issue. Let’s say it’s our Spring Retreat. We have a huge white board and huge sticky notes in our office. I’ll write Spring Retreat at the top of the page and then I will ask a question, “What do we want the Spring Retreat to look like? What theme would we like to run with?” And then I’ll ask them to give me 5 ideas. Here’s the tough part for me…I don’t talk…I just write. This is key. This allows them to do the thinking.

After they come up with 5 ideas I add three more slots and say, “Those are great ideas…can you come up with 3 more?” This is usually where the best ideas come out. The creative juices really start to pump. They have to dig deep. But I don’t stop there…once they come up with 3 more I’ll add 3 more slots and say, “Awesome stuff…let’s come up with 3 more.” This is usually when I’ll insert an idea of mine. I join the conversation.

We always try to come up with at least 9 or 10 ideas during each brainstorming session. I want to push my team to really think. Go beyond the surface ideas. And dig deep. It does take time. But it pays off when you hit that one idea where the whole team says, “Yes! That’s it. Let’s run with that.”

To lead an effective brainstorming session you must master the art of asking questions and you must master the art of listening. When you do this you’ll go from every idea coming from one man/woman to every idea birthing out of a team effort. When this takes place I believe great ideas will surface and everyone on the team will be fully invested.



  1. Good stuff! I never was very good at brainstorming. Wish I had gotten this input earlier. But better late than never.

  2. I am so freaking excited for this topic!!! We are going to blow it out da’ box!

  3. […] brainstorming: Justin Wallace kicked off Heart of  Campus Ministry’s new series on The Art of Brainstorming, discussing things he […]

  4. […] of posts exploring The Art of Brainstorming. You can go back and read the previous posts here :: Part 1 // by Justin Wallace :: Part 2 // by Benson Hines :: Part 3 // by PC Walker :: Part 4 // by Dave […]

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