Put brainstorming in the hands of a group of friends, agree to a set of guidelines, and the ideas flow freely. In 2006, we kicked off the first of our monthly brainstorming meetings. Over the past two years, friendships have bloomed. It's totally "me-time" and we leave energized & refreshed. We loosely follow the structured process developed by the originators of The Brain Exchange concept.
"The Brain Exchange," as described at their site, "is a monthly, open-ended brainstorming group for women, re-introduced in 1995 by Anita Goldstein and Susan Goldstein. People brainstorm about relationships, in-laws, children,quality of life questions, career questions, marketing strategies, entrepreneurial ideas, titles for the books they're writing and names for their babies. Brainstorming is an opportunity to meet like-minded women, to give and receive support for work and personal issues, and to network. It's a process that encourages people to share their new projects, their concerns, their hopes and fears, and to explore transitions. We use a structured process and traditional brainstorming guidelines to generate answers to questions."
I read about The Brain Exchange years ago, setting aside the concept while the kids were toddlers and it seemed infeasible. Two years ago I emailed 11 friends. An excerpt from my message: "I know that each and every one of you has no free time. I know that this may seem an indulgence but I believe that it would be a good experience and worthwhile." 7 of the 11 were interested in the concept and thought they could get away one evening each month.
We have about 10 members; meetings vary in size, but a meeting only requires 3 people! There is no guilt over missing a meeting, people come if they can and can bring a friend. We grow the group organically.
So how does a typical meeting go? We meet at a cafe or restaurant and catch up a bit, then I review the brainstorming rules if there are any guests. Regulars are quite familiar with the process and that's part of the fun. I pass out scrap paper and we each write a question. You can ask anything you want, trivial to life-altering. Someone pulls a random question and reads it aloud. We ask the person who wrote the question anything we need to clarify the question. It's rephrased as necessary to get to the root of the matter. If someone asks, "Should we get a dog?" it's helpful to know whether something might be driving the decision, if they really want a dog but need to know what to expect, etc. It's not always as it seems! After clarified, there's no further dialog with the person who asked the question and we start brain-storming.
For about 10 minutes, we go round and round the table and each person gives an idea or response. The idea is to go quickly, give the idea without embellishment... tangents... back-stories. We do not want to know that Janie's cousin's boyfriend's teacher's nephew tried the idea and it worked for them. There are no wrong answers. Anything goes. The person who asked the question just listens. That is soooooo hard. Someone documents the ideas.
Brainstorm responses can be applied to seemingly unrelated questions. One person asked, "How can I make a living with the knowledge I have about the biomedical treatment of a disease?" and the ideas generated apply to in-depth knowledge of any subject.
Some people don't even have a question!
Leading a brainstorming group requires little time other than the actual monthly meeting. The leader schedules meetings, reviews the process at each meeting and emails the brainstorms for each question to the group and then keeps the group's private website up-to-date.
Check out some of the brainstorms we created together.