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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Brainstorm Like Google

You know those word-association games? I say “Thanksgiving,” you say, “pumpkin pie?” Well, when it comes to brainstorming meetings, the first phrase that jumps to everyone’s mind is probably something like “pointless” or “waste of time.”

There are so many ways for these sessions to go wrong: lack of an agenda, late-comers, no decisions made, decisions made without a plan for following through, off-topic conversations, people who love the sound of their own voice—we could go on. (If we were one of those meetings’ over-talkers, we would probably would.)

However, coming up with ideas as a group is also pretty essential to a successful company. Instead of accepting them as time-wasters, you can adopt the strategy the Google Ventures design team uses to make its brainstorming meetings ultra-productive—and even fun.

The “Note-and-Vote”

Everyone in the room gets paper, a pen, and five to 10 minutes to scribble down as many ideas as they possibly can. You’re not supposed to self-edit; no one besides you will see the list, so go crazy.

Then, the timer is set for two more minutes, while each person picks one or two favorites from his or her list.

Now it’s time to speak up. Everyone goes around and shares their top ideas, while someone dutifully records those ideas in a list on a whiteboard. Still no judgement or feedback!

Next, another five minutes passes while everyone individually picks out a favorite idea from the whiteboard and writes their vote down.

The votes are revealed and noted on the whiteboard. One person, the “decider,” (who is chosen in advance) makes the final call on which idea to go with.

While that may have sounded like a lot of steps, count the minutes: only 15.

“The Note-and-Vote isn’t perfect,” says Jake Knapp, who’s on the Google Ventures team. “But it is fast. And it’s quite likely better than what you’d get with two hours of the old way.”

It works because each attendee gets the opportunity to think as an individual and with the group. Plus, a ton of ideas are created—and in brainstorming sessions, quantity often leads to quality. Lastly, while it’s not totally democratic, the Note-and-Vote method ensures that each person is heard.

Knapp says his team has used the method for everything from naming companies and choosing product features to deciding where to go for lunch.

How to Implement It

Next time you’re leading some brainstorming, tell your colleagues that the group is going to try something new. (Make sure you review the steps before you start so it all goes smoothly in the meeting.)

However, if you’re just an attendee, not a planner, you may want to forward an explanation of the Note-and-Vote to the person who’s in charge of meetings with a quick note reading, “This sounds cool! Maybe we can give it a try.”

Quick: I say “Note-and-Vote,” you say, “strategy that revolutionizes how my office does brainstorming!” Well, no guarantees—but the Note-and-Vote is definitely worth a try.

Photo of woman courtesy of Shutterstock.