Posted by: Justin Wallace | January 11, 2010

The Art of Brainstorming pt2 :: Exploring the Edges

Many of us are not extremely creative in the ex nihilo sense; we aren’t naturally suited to developing ideas “out of nothing.” While there may be gifted people who, on a regular basis, can start from a mental blank slate and imagine something unique, most of us (including me!) don’t have that gift.

Since few of us fit the ultra-creative mold, we may end up frustrated by our brainstorming sessions because we can’t come up with something “truly original.” But I believe it’s possible for all of us to experience productive, powerful results from brainstorming – by brainstorming methodically, through a process I call “Exploring the Edges.”

exploring the edges

I believe it’s easier to be creative with boundaries than without them.

That may seem like a ridiculous statement, but ponder it for a bit. Which would be an easier task for your team to brainstorm together?

  • Draw something really unique.
  • Draw a really unique dog.

I think most teams would have a far easier time taking the next five minutes to accomplish the latter brainstorming activity. With a starting point, we’re able to get down to the task of creatively adjusting the dog’s features: color, size, face, hair, etc. While the end result may still be a dog, it’s going to be a very creative sort of dog.

“Exploring the Edges” is the process whereby we use starting points to produce creative methods. (It’s a simplified version of Seth Godin’s “Edgecraft” from Free Prize Inside.) In a nutshell, this form of brainstorming identifies the “edges” – most commonly the who, what, where, and when – of present methods, and then explores the territory beyond those edges. Instead of aimless wandering in hopes of landing on “something creative,” we explore outward from a predetermined spot.

For example, if your college ministry team is brainstorming creative adjustments to the weekly Sing-n-Speak, you would work one edge at a time, exploring what alternatives might exist along that edge. Here’s how one might explore the When edge of the typical large group meeting:

  • How could we go “bigger” along the When edge?
    – The Brainstorm: have large group meetings twice a week, have a 2-hour meeting, have a meeting every week of the semester (including Welcome Week and Finals)…
  • How could we go “smaller” along the When edge?
    – The Brainstorm: have large group meeting once a month, have a 30-minute meeting, start meeting in February, stop meeting in April…
  • How else could we adjust the When edge for our large group meeting – even in crazy ways?
    – The Brainstorm: have meeting at 11pm, have meeting in the middle of the day, move to a different day of the week, offer different meetings for certain groups (freshmen, seniors, those on West Campus – this involves the Who edge, too), have two different meetings that overlap for worship, have a large group meeting for Parents’ Weekend…

We don’t stop with one edge; Exploring the Edges involves working edge-by-edge through who is involved, what we do, where it takes place, when it happens, and even why we’re doing this (our purposes for the activity). As shown above, it may be helpful to consider how to do “more,” “less,” or just plain “different” for each of these edges.

(And of course, when we brainstorm, purposes should either be our starting point OR be the “bouncer” for each of our ideas. Last time I blogged here, I discussed the need for outcomes to govern our aim. There is no inherent value in being creative, only in doing things that better hit your targets.)

Exploring the Edges may be awkward to grasp ’til you try it, so I encourage you to give it a shot with a specific element of your own ministry – a mission trip, a ministry team, leadership meetings, small groups, a big event, how you advertise, whatever. You might be amazed at the creativity that arises when you brainstorm methodically.

By Exploring the Edges, you don’t have to be a “something-from-nothing” creative thinker, nor do the members of your team. The creativity comes as you bravely explore beyond each starting point.

The Heart of Campus Ministry is thankful to have Benson Hines guest blogging today as we continue our series in The Art of Brainstorming.  Benson has written an e-book called, Reaching the Campus Tribes you should check out if you haven’t already.  In the past few years Benson has traveled the contiguous 48 states logged countlous miles and probably thousands of conversations.  You can check his ongoing blog as a champion for campus ministry at Exploring College Ministry.



  1. Very nice, Benson. I like this a lot. This is what I plan on doing with my leaders next week. It helps me not rely on my own ideas so much and make them work for what we should do.

  2. Great, D.! I’d love to hear how it goes – and what you might add/subtract after giving it a try.

  3. […] beginning of the post is below, or click here to see the entire post. The Art of Brainstorming, Part 2 Many of us are not extremely creative in the ex nihilo sense; we […]

  4. […] a new approach to brainstorming, or define success in a new way (two guest posts I did at Heart of Campus […]

  5. […] Want more thoughts on brainstorming? Check out my recent collection on the topic, or look at Heart of Campus Ministry’s recent series on the subject (my guest-post over there was in Week 2). […]

  6. […] 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 […]

  7. […] 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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