The Ultimate 10 Minute Brainstorming

One of the most common types of workshops that every designer will have to run is the good ol' brainstorming. Find out how to make them truly effective.

One of the most common types of workshops that every designer will have to run in their lives is the plain and simple brainstorming workshop. There are literally billions of brainstorming workshop styles out there you can choose from, but most of them are completely broken and ineffective. They end up being big, messy discussions where the loudest person wins...  

This is because many Brainstorming techniques don't take human-nature, implied hierarchies or even varied personalities into consideration. But not to worry, because we're about to revolutionise brainstorming for you. With this simple 10-minute exercise called "10 for 10", you will get great ideas on the table without all of the pointless discussion, frustration, and yelling.

Curious yet? Let's dive right in!

Workshop 10 For 10 Overview

Workshop outcome: A curated list of solutions and ideas for a challenge
Time: 10 minutes
Materials needed: A block of Square Sticky notes per person(any colour) + A sharpie per person + a Time Timer or similar visual timer + Voting Dots (any colour)
Minimum participants: 2
Maximum participants: 10 per table

Note: We talk a lot about 'the facilitator'. That's the person running the workshop, aka you!

Introduction to 10 For 10

10 for 10 is the fastest, easiest and most commonly used brainstorming method at AJ&Smart. It's lightweight, fun and super useful! The only thing you need to start a 10 for 10 session is a topic. Since you can use this method to brainstorm almost anything, there are very few limitations. But just to give you a little taste of what's possible with this simple but might exercise, here are a few examples: 

  • Generating ideas for new features for an app
  • Generating ideas for new facebook ad copy
  • Generating headline ideas for a new landing page
  • Generating ideas to improve your office environment
  • Generating ideas for a company event

All you have to do as the facilitator of a 10 for 10 session is turn the topic you want to brainstorm into a "How Might We" phrased challenge. Or, in other words, rephrase whatever challenge or topic you have in mind into something that is actionable.

So instead of the 10 for 10 session starting with something negative like: "We need to think of ways to fix this checkout flow" you rephrase it into something that offers more opportunity, like: "How Might We Improve the checkout flow."

Here are two more "How Might We" examples:

examples of good HMW statements

Step 1: Generate! (5 minutes)

Once you have a HMW written and your team agree on it, it's time to start your 10 for 10 session!

The key to this exercise is one of the core principles of every workshop we run at AJ&Smart, and also the core principle of the Design Sprint (a process invented by Jake Knapp and one of our favorite Workshop methods)... this principle is "Together Alone".

Together Alone means that, even though everyone will be working toward the same goal - everyone will be working toward it by themselves. Without discussion, without sharing, completely anonymously. This might feel uncomfortable for you and your team at first, as it's not how team usually work together but with time "Together Alone" will become the only way you want to work. To avoid the silence feeling awkward and weird during exercises, we suggest you put on some non-distracting workshoppy tunes, like these ones that we've gathered in our Spotify playlist:

Ok, back to the workshop: this section is all about Idea Generation and nothing else. It's not about good ideas, it's about having a lot of ideas. Yes, it's about Quantity NOT Quality! It's important to repeat that to your team members as they go through this section.

1. Give each team member a block of sticky notes and a sharpie

2. Tell each member to write as many ideas as they possibly can for the HMW challenge. One idea per Sticky note and with legible handwriting. Tell them that their ideas are going to be completely anonymous - so they shouldn't feel worried about writing bad ideas. They must write a minimum of 15 ideas but up to 20 is preferable. That might seem like a lot but remember the motto is "QUANTITY, not quality."

3. Set the timer to 5 minutes and let everybody write ideas in silence.

4. BONUS Facilitation Tip: When you see any members getting stuck (look for people stopping writing and looking like they're thinking too much!) encourage them to keep on writing, even if their ideas feel fizzy. By virtue if putting pen to paper good ideas start emerging eventually.

5. Once the 5 minutes are up, tell everyone to stop what they are doing. For a more visual example of this in action, let's imagine we were working on the challenge: "HMW Get people excited about Workshops".

... let’s take a look at some of the ideas/solutions that participants might have written:

Step 2: Curate! (1 minute)

Each team member should now have a juicy stack of ideas in front of them. Since we went for quantity over quality, at least 50% of these ideas won't even be usable (and that's a-OK!). The next step will be the first pass at finding the most promising ideas. Here are the next steps:

1. Ask each member to choose their favourite 10 ideas from their stack of ideas.

2. Each member should now discard all their non-chosen ideas... as in, throw them out!

3. Once each member has chosen their 10, they should stick them up on a wall/whiteboard/whatever surface is available. Everyone sticks their sticky notes to the same surface at random.

4. The participants should NOT group or arrange the sticky notes. In fact, mix them up as much as possible. To be clear: everyone's favorite 10 ideas will be mixed together randomly on the same surface. Just stick em' up!

Step 3: Vote! (3 minutes)

Now let's try to figure out which ideas the team thinks are the most promising. In a normal brainstorming process this would be a circular discussion with no end-point. In 10 for 10 it's just part of the process.

1. As the facilitator, remove any duplicated ideas from the surface. No discussion required, just remove them.

2. Give each team member a strip of 10 voting dots.

3. Tell them to silently vote on the ideas they think are the most promising, reminding them of the HMW challenge. Voting rules: Participants can put as many dots as they like on one idea. They can vote on their own ideas. They cannot ask for further explanation of an idea, if it doesn't make sense - skip it.

4. Participants must also use all of their 10 dots in the 3 minutes, so tell them to go with their gut feeling rather than scrutinising every idea. Put a 3 minute timer on this so that the participants don't over think.

It's important to point out that this voting process is NOT about accuracy. Of course, there is a bias to put your dots where other dots are already. The point here is to force people to actually read the ideas by having them focus on voting. The voting also gives us a loose idea of which ideas the team members like the best. It's not scientific, but it reduces the need for conversation.

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Step 4: Arrange! (1 minute)

The final part of 10 for 10 is simply about visualising the results of the voting.

Reorganise the voted-on ideas on your surface so that the ideas with the most votes are at the top and the ideas with no votes are removed from the board.

What you now have visualised in front of you is 10 (or less if you're lucky!) ideas that your team thinks have a good chance of solving for the HMW challenge set at the beginning of the exercise. Cutting your brainstorming time and transforming it into solid ideas with the potential to move forward on.


That's it!

Now imagine trying to get to those 10 ideas with a normal discussion. Very likely one of the participants would have taken up 10 minutes  talking about just one idea, the discussion would go in circles, and everyone would leave the meeting frustrated.

Would the ideas have been as varied? Very unlikely:  as soon as people start discussing, the ideas all bleed into each other, reducing variety.

10 for 10 forces a team to think quick, to be brutal with their curation, and get less attached to specific ideas. Idea generation should be lightweight and fast, especially for things that shouldn't require hours of discussion.

10 for 10 is great for getting a read on what solutions are in the room and what ideas people have in their minds but would find it difficult to articulate in a conversation. It's also a fantastic warm-up exercise before jumping into something more serious like Lightning Decision Jam or Design Sprint.

Why don't you take it for a test run? With your client, your team or even your family. Is there something you've been stuck on? It only takes 10 minutes to see how powerful something like this can be in practice!