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Brainstorming session

How to structure a brainstorming session

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Aug 28, 2020
How should we structure a perfect brainstorming session on this platform?

Getting the session structure right is an iterative process. We started with a guess and have been improving it ever since. This is what we have so far. Please add your suggestions below.

What's a brainstorming session?

The purpose of a brainstorming session is not to answer questions. Rather, the purpose is to jointly contribute valuable information that would get us closer to the session’s goal.

A session is like a puzzle game - we know what we want, but there are missing puzzle pieces on the way there. Some pieces can be found, others have yet to be created.

Components of a brainstorming session:

  1. A clear goal (the big picture) that would be achievable if we had the right information.
  2. Insight. What should people know before they can meaningfully contribute toward the session’s goal?
  3. Call to action. How can you convince people that your goal is worthy of their time and brainpower?

Formulate the session's goal in a way that invites people on a journey to assemble or create the information required to reach the goal. Can it be formulated as a question?

Here are some guidelines:

1 . The topic should be brainstorming-worthy
  • Make it worthy of people's time and effort.
  • If Google can answer your question then it's not brainstorming-worthy.
  • Make sure it's something actionable where progress can be made by brainstorming.
2. Make it understandable
  • English is the universal language of the Internet. As such it's understood by the largest percentage of people. All communication here should be in English for this reason.
  • Use clear and common language, explain abbreviations, avoid jargon when possible but don’t dumb things down.
3. Don’t confuse the reader
  • What do you expect from the readers? How can they contribute? Make it very clear/easy to understand. Make this the first thing they see.
  • Don’t spread the focus too wide. Consider creating multiple narrow sessions if your topic is wide.
4. Don’t waste the reader’s time
  • Be as brief as you can while still conveying all the necessary information. Don’t make people work hard to figure out what the session is about and how they should contribute. Convey the essence in the fewest number of words.
  • Be upfront with what the readers are getting into so that they can save time if the session is not of interest to them.
  • Don’t mislead the readers (click-bait titles) just to get their attention. Not every session is suitable for everyone.
5. Make the session engaging
  • Get the reader’s attention, but don’t be spammy, sensationalistic, misleading with click-bait titles
  • Lower the barrier to entry. Consider the reader mildly interested at best. People are not ready to invest their time and brainpower to work on your cause unless you can convey a good reason why they should.
  • Avoid big chunks of text. Split it into manageable paragraphs, bullet points, and numbered lists
  • Sincerely invite people's input.
6. Be yourself
  • Brainstorm on what you are genuinely interested in
  • Write in a friendly, natural language. Don't try too hard and end up sounding like a robot.
7. Acknowledge people's effort
  • People invested their time in thinking/contributing to your topic. The least you can do is acknowledge their effort. Look into the rest of their content as well and see if you can contribute something of value.




With these principles in mind let's now translate them into action.

The structure of a brainstorming session

The title of the session

Should be descriptive and non-sensationalistic (no click-baits). If possible it should indicate that user participation is welcome. The title is usually either a question or a subtle invitation to participate in a collective effort. Examples:

  • How to construct a self-sustaining home?
  • Describe your system for success/happiness
  • What's your best biotech startup idea?
  • Let's put together the ultimate guide on how best to perform secondary research

Cover image

For copyright reasons it would be ideal if you could draw it or take a photo yourself.

Otherwise use a free stock image with a proper license for sharing (Creative Commons CC0 or CC BY). A few places to find such images are unsplash.com, pexels.com, and CC search.

The session's main text is divided into 3 sections

1 . The “ask” (purpose)

This should be the first paragraph. Make it really obvious to the readers what it is you would like them to contribute/think about. Examples:

  • What is the most energy and resource-efficient industrial nutrient production method known so far? How could we further improve it?
  • Let's build together a list of good biotech startup ideas. What problems could be solved and who would the customers be? What doesn't yet exist but should/could?

This requires some thinking and summarizing on your part. What you want to explain and what you would like the participants to do is not the same thing. First focus on them - what should they do?

2. Insight (what the reader should know)

What do people need to know so that they can meaningfully contribute? What is the session about? Provide quality, well-researched information but don’t waste people’s time by having them read more than they need to. Reference your statements. Refrain from the poetic language which puffs up the text but adds no value to it.

When starting a session we generally already have some ideas for solutions (we might be thinking of the latest advancements we learned while exploring the subject). Don't let the solutions get into the session description. This is not the place for them.

If you want to focus on a specific solution, create the session specifically about that solution and explain to the readers that you seek to further improve it. In this case, the session insight would include some context (what problem the solution is solving already).

3. Call to action

This section is appropriate if the session insight text is longer and the reader needs to be gently reminded about "the ask”. What would be an ideal accomplishment for this particular session? What input would you like from the users? Gently motivate people to contribute their feedback, insight, and solutions. What’s in it for them (good for humanity, you appreciating help, etc)? Restate how they can help. Motivating closing words - if appropriate (imagine if …. Wouldn’t that be something?). But don’t overdo it, people’s time should not be wasted. Keep it short and simple.

Tags

Tags are synonymous with general categories to which the session belongs. They are not just keywords. For the primary tag, select one category which is the best fit for your session. For the secondary tags select any additional categories your session might fit into (the fewer the better).





Please add your suggestions/modifications below. I will keep editing this main text to reflect any new improvements we come up with.
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Creative contributions

Avoid offering a solution within the session description

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Sep 10, 2020
When we create a new session, we generally already have in mind some ideas for solutions. We've done the research and might be thinking of the latest advancements we learned about. So we should decide whether we want to brainstorm on advancing one specific solution or solving the problem in general regardless of directions people might take. It makes a difference when structuring the session. We should either: 1. Make the session about the overall problem, then afterward post the cool solution in the creative contributions area. In this case, the solution does not belong to the session description. 2. Make the session about advancing one specific solution. In which case we have to include in the session's description a brief explanation about the problem that the solution is solving. Example: https://brainstorming.com/r/s73 I had one creative contribution in mind, but I didn't mention it within the session's description. Instead, I added it below as the first creative contribution.

Avoid repetition while creating a session

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Sep 11, 2020
Before creating a session, check if your session overlaps with an already existing session on the platform. You can browse through relevant sessions using the platform's search function. If you find a relevant hit, go through the entire session. After reading it, if you think your session has something new to offer, modify your session to highlight the non-overlapping part. If the novelty is not significant enough to create a new session, mention your problem in the "comments section" of the existing session.

Check whether your question is brainstorming-worthy

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Sep 25, 2020
It is difficult to distinguish between a question that retrieves information and a question that is brainstorming-worthy. Usually, the questions that you Google are the ones that retrieve information. For example, “how do cells divide?” Or “what is cryogenic freezing?” On the other hand, an ideal brainstorming-worthy question asks for your creative opinion. You may find creative answers to your question on the internet, too, and we do need such creative answers to launch the session. However, that is not the end goal. The goal is to improve the solutions to the point that they can be tested empirically. For theoretical sessions, the ideal solution would be the one that answers the question holistically or with ultimate specificity. A question is brainstorming-worthy if it – 1. tries to solve a problem 2. promotes creative thinking (developing de novo solutions/ tools or modifying and utilizing tools that were originally developed to solve another problem) 3. attracts important personal experience or opinions

Avoid sharing personal information in the session and suggestion text

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Oct 01, 2020
Avoid sharing personal information in the text unless it is essential for understanding your point. For example, you can share details of an experiment you have performed in your lab or home that better explains your creative contribution.

Only provide information that makes the reader's time worthwhile.

Also, excess information dilutes the crux of your session/ suggestion.

Avoid adding an introductory paragraph to your session/ suggestion

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Oct 01, 2020

We are addicted to writing an introductory paragraph to our text. If the session/ suggestion makes perfect sense without it, we are better without it. Reasons - again, preserving reader time and not diluting the crux.

Don't scare people away by asking for too much

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Dragan Otasevic
Dragan Otasevic Oct 01, 2020
I imagine that people who visit a brainstorming session page are mildly interested at best. They came in following a link because the title sounded interesting. Upon seeing large paragraphs of text they could get discouraged from participating. Chances are they aren't ready to commit 10 minutes of their time to read the session description, let alone perform their own research into the problem so that they can contribute in a meaningful way.

  • Keep the text short but packed with the necessary info.
  • Break it down into smaller, logical paragraphs.
  • Mark the paragraphs with subtitles.
  • Use bullet points and numbered lists.

But most of all, keep it short. “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject." - Unknown
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
The upcoming learning material section should help save people's time on research while still equipping them with the necessary knowledge so that they are able to participate in a meaningful way

Remember what we are aiming for

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 01, 2020


  1. The purpose and insight go into the session's main text (and the upcoming learning material section)
  2. The ideation stage happens through creative contributions
  3. The Idea refining stage is done through comments and collaborative editing of any text

Acknowledge people's effort

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 05, 2020
People spent their time coming up with a contribution to your problem. Let them know what you think about it. Can you further iterate on it and make their solution proposal even better?

The title of your session/ suggestion should be a one-line summary of what follows

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Oct 05, 2020
This is more applicable to suggestions than sessions.

People like short texts. That does not mean long session texts or suggestions are wrong. If you have a long suggestion, use the title as a one-line summary of your text.

For sessions such as "What natural foods are potent neuromodulators?", the suggestion titles may simply include the name of the natural food/s. However, for sessions such as the current one, a descriptive suggestion title is needed. If I had written "The title of your session/ suggestion" as the title to this suggestion, it would have given little idea to the reader as to what my suggestion is.

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General comments

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
"Art is the elimination of the unnecessary." - Pablo Picasso