For years, managers who wanted to brainstorm with their staff would gather everyone in a conference room and invite input. As people shared ideas, the facilitator would create a bulleted list on a flip chart that summarized the group’s points.
In the years ahead, prepare for a new kind of brainstorming. It’s called Message Mapping.
You still want to encourage your team members to chime in with their ideas. But instead of keeping a running list of what they say, create a different graphic representation of their comments.
For each central premise or core idea they offer, encapsulate it in a word or two and circle it on a whiteboard. Keep drawing large bubbles that reflect the broadest yet most relevant categories of ideas that your employees contribute.
Leave lots of space between each bubble. That’s because at a later stage of brainstorming, you’re going to connect them to smaller circles with supporting pieces of insight. You can use different colored markers to write the related bubbles, with red for the strongest connections, yellow for mildly relevant supporting points and green for tangentially related observations.
Some consultants have begun to describe this process as “cluster thinking.” That’s because you group similarly themed ideas together in a visually arresting way so that participants see interrelationships among ideas.
“It’s a way of thinking that encourages creativity, because not only are words involved, but also symbols, colors and unusual formats,” writes Karen Berg in her new book, Loud & Clear. “[It’s] a very ‘right-brain’ way of doing things—with a nice ‘left-brain’ structuring. It’s kind of the best of both worlds.”
A benefit of message mapping is that it breeds a livelier, more unguarded give-and-take among the group. People are less apt to fear speaking up if everyone else speaks freely and “sees” the brainstorming process unfolding graphically in real time in front of them.
Better yet, the easy-to-understand map of ideas helps participants organize their thoughts and provide more substantive input. The group will stay on track if they know what key points cry out for more support.