From The Art Of Community by O'Reilly ( by Jono Bacon

Filling Out the Plan

With a mission statement, strategic plan structure, and some notes about our aims, we have already made some great progress in getting organized. Many communities are built on vague ideas that are barely communicated and shared, and progress is scattershot. Their approach is often uncoordinated and without schedule. Our work so far already has our community off to a rocking start.

But the devil is in the details. We need to use our structure here to flesh out what we want to achieve in our mission statement. We need to take our mission; combine it with our notes about opportunities; and produce a set of objectives, goals, success criteria, and implementation plan items.

First, take your mission statement and pick it apart. Now use the high-level aims as a source of discussion for brainstorming sessions. We need to flesh out, discuss, and debate our ideas and their implications and requirements. These sessions will generate this set of ideas that you can merge into the strategic plan.

Brainstorming Ideas

The justification for collaborative brainstorming is twofold. First, no matter how intelligent you are or how worldly you consider yourself, collaborative brainstorming always uncovers new ideas, concepts, problems, and techniques that you never considered. This is hugely valuable. Second, collaborative brainstorming is an important step in building transparency and openness in your community. This sense of openness is critical at every step, including strategic development.

Getting people together to share ideas and opinions should be exhilarating. It should open everyone’s mind up to flow in an environment that encourages the expression of ideas. Great brainstorming sessions inspire their participants: members not only feel that they can contribute, but that they can control the implementation of the very ideas they propose.

Great brainstorming sessions have a core formula:

  • Define a purpose
    • Your session should have an aim, a goal, and a purpose. What do you want to achieve in the session? What outcomes would you like to generate? Would you like ideas, work assignment, or other elements? Make sure each of your participants are aware of the session’s aim. Remember, an important source of focus for your sessions should be the objectives of your mission statement.
  • Organize and invite your participants
    • Make sure that the people you want in the session know about it and can attend. If the session is online, be conscious of time zone issues. Allocate enough time to run the session. Usually 1–2 hours is enough time without boring the pants off people.
  • Get your resources in place
    • If your session is face-to-face, make sure you have somewhere to note down ideas. A whiteboard or flip pad is a great resource for this. If the session is online, a wiki or note- taker is a great option. Another great option here is a collaborative text editor, such as the freely available Gobby ( ).

  • Set some ground rules
    • Make it clear that everyone is encouraged to participate. Also make it clear that offensive discussion and nonconstructive criticism should be avoided. Ideas should be expressed in high-level detail, but not discussed in too specific detail due to time constraints.
  • Help people relax
    • For many people, a brainstorming session is a social nightmare. Try to make the atmosphere as loose and informal as possible.

With this recipe in place, we can explore some methods of generating the best ideas from the session.

Technique 1: Question Assumptions

With every brainstorming session, there is a set of assumptions and perceived norms. Your first point of order should be to tear open those norms and question whether they are effective. If they are not, the road is open to alternatives.

While we are on the subject of questioning the norms, it is also healthy to regularly question your own perspective and approaches.

Technique 2: Think Outside the Box

While we are all wrapped up in self-reflective thought, you should also question what you could achieve if you let your imagination run loose. What are the subconscious limitations that you are placing on yourself when thinking of ideas? In other words, if all the barriers are removed, what is possible?

Thinking outside the box takes time and focus to master. The trick is in questioning everything around you. A great exercise for this is to spend an hour noticing the details in your world and questioning why they work the way they do. Try to find faults. Try to find justification for the way things are. Importantly, when you ask these questions, try to think of solutions. If you question why the heater control in your car is labeled the way it is, what would be a better label? If you question why you always need to pay your rent check manually, how could it be automated for both you and your landlord? These are great opportunities to enjoy being a cantankerous consumer but with the added benefit of expanding your own problem-solving skills. Meaningless buzzword fans may want to refer to this as Cantankerized Consumer Problem Assessment (CCPA).

Technique 3: Let's Make it Suck

The idea is simple: reverse the aims of what you want to achieve.

As an example, imagine you wanted to design a cell phone. Traditionally, you would brainstorm the attributes of a great cell phone. Instead, turn everything on its head. What would make the worst possible cell phone? Maybe it ignores all calls? Or maybe it only accepts calls from telemarketing companies? Maybe the buttons are too small? How about really short battery life?

When you ask these kinds of questions in a brainstorming session, it almost always breaks the ice and gets people talking. Such ridiculous questions generate a lot of fun discussion, laughing, and ludicrous ideas. Make sure you write every one of these nuggets of madness down.

BuildingCommunity/FillingOutthePlan (last edited 2010-09-07 02:14:25 by pendulum)