A few years ago I experienced a simple yet powerful brainstorming technique I call "notepad brainstorming".
My good friend Jeff Johnson had been selected to chair the 2007 Toastmasters Region III Conference -- an event whose target audience was 1,100+ Toastmasters clubs with 22,000+ members from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and parts of Louisianna, Nebraska, and Wyoming. These conferences happen annually each summer, typically starting on a Thursday evening and running though the following Saturday evening.
13-14 months before our conference, Jeff hand-picked his team of sub-committee chairs for most aspects of the conference. I was honored to be selected as Publicity/Marketing Chair and Audio/Visual Chair. About half a dozen of us attended the conference that preceded ours specifically to study their operations -- what they did, how they did it, what worked well, what could be improved.
About halfway through that conference, at the Friday night dinner banquet and entertainment, Jeff brought out a blank notepad. He jotted down a few ideas, a few questions, a few observations, then passed it to the person next to him asking for their input. They added their feedback, ideas, observations, and questions then passed the notepad to the next person. As the notepad went round and round the table, our observations, ideas, questions and feedback snowballed. Each person's additions literally triggered another "round" of notepad discussion.
After 30-45 minutes that notepad contained high level plans and direction for most of our conference. Although we lacked depth and details, we had a fairly comprehensive vision, plan and conceptual design for our entire conference. We had a good handle on what would work, what wouldn't work, and what innovations we wanted to introduce.
I'd experienced a lot of brainstorming up to that point, but never anything like that session. Simple, easy to implement, yet very powerful. Profound.
However, talk is cheap. The real measure was our results -- the quality of the conference that grew from that brainstorming session.
We received a lot of feedback on our conference. The feedback from the wife of a past International Director was typical: "We've been coming to these conferences for more than 20 years and yours was the best we've EVER attended". High praise indeed. A more "objective" measure: our conference attendance was up about 30% vs the prior year conference.
Notepad brainstorming was just one of the many highly creative and effective project management paradigms we used on that project.
A great big thank you to Jeff Johnson and the rest of that awesome team for teaching each other so much.
If you were fortunate enough to attend that conference, why not share your experiences through the comments link? Likewise, if you've experienced innovative methods like "Notepad Brainstorming" why not share them with us?