How to lead an Idea Storm

Want to generate new ideas? The goal is to take you through the gears of idea generation. It makes a blank piece of paper far less scary for your team, and ends with a short list of clearly communicated ideas that have been evaluated to ensure they are robust. The Idea Storm recipe is a curated set of five Workshop Tactics designed to help you put a problem through its paces by gathering lots of ideas, then narrowing them down and evaluating them.

🧠 Learn how to…

✔️ frame your problem as a question

✔️ free associate around the question

✔️ generate lots of ideas

✔️ develop and clarify your ideas

✔️ evaluate each idea

🃏 Cards used…
📚 Before you start

In person

  • Prepare (book room, invite people, write and share agenda)
  • Materials (whiteboard, sticky notes, pens)
  • Tech check (charger, adapter, screen projector)
  • Room (refreshments, temperature, chairs, wall space)


  • Prepare (book room, send call link, invite people, write and share agenda)
  • Materials (whiteboard, sticky notes, pens, Miro board)
  • Tech check (charger, adapter, screen projector)
  • Room (refreshments, temperature, chairs, wall space)


  • Prepare (invite people, write and share agenda, create and send call invite)
  • Materials (Miro board)
  • Tech check (charger, adapter, Microphone/headphones)
How much time?…

You can complete the Idea Storm recipe as a series of three to five shorter workshops spread over a few days, or power through it in one day, for example with 2 hours before lunch and 2 hours after lunch.

✨ Extra reading…

👀 Let’s walk through this session using an example: how to improve communication across departments between creative and consultant teams at a creative consultancy company.


Use How Might We… to get into a solution mindset


⏱ Time: 1 hour

🧠 Core objective: frame your problem as a question to get the group into a solution mindset.

The How Might We… tactic transforms problems and observations into solvable questions. A problem on its own can seem daunting. Rephrasing problems as questions is a powerful way to switch the mind from panic mode to solution mode.

💡 Tip: ask yourself if your question allows for a variety of solutions. If it doesn’t, broaden it.


  1. Gather information about the problem you are solving. This could be in the form of recording an interview with an expert on the problem, or compiling research findings into a presentation (completed before workshop).
  2.  Since this is the start of your overall workshop, make sure to start with an icebreaker to warm everyone up.
  3. Inform the group that as they watch the interview or presentation, they should write down any problems they hear as ‘How Might We…’ question, one per sticky note. (5 minutes)
  4. Explain how to write a How Might We… question: rephrase a problem you hear as a question, so that it asks for a solution.There are two columns. The column on the left is Problems with three sticky notes. The first sticky notes says: Communication between departments with email is not consistent and often lacks information. The second sticky note says: Departments don't meet with each other in person/online. The third sticky note says: There is no designated person to communicate important information between departments (no structure). The column on the right is the question column. The first sticky note says: How might we improve communication between departments with messages that have all vital information? The second sticky note says: How might we get departments to meet with each other in person/online? The third sticky note says: How might we designate someone to communicate important information between departments (create a structure)?
  5. Present your research about the problem to the group. (25 minutes)
  6. Invite everyone to stick their notes on the workspace. (15 minutes)
  7. If you have a lot of competing questions, use Priority Map to work out which one to tackle first. (10 minutes) 
    There is graph with four quadrants. The x axis is small problem on left and big problem on right. Y axis is low cost at top and high cost at bottom. How might we designate someone to communicate important information between departments (create a structure)? This question is place high on y axis and just past the middle on the x axis. How might we improve communication between departments with messages that has all the vital information? This sticky note is placed at the top of the y axis and far right on the x axis. These two sticky notes are in the do now quadrant. The last sticky note is in the plan quadrent. How might we get departments to meet with each other in person/online? sticky note is to the middle left of the center of the x axis and just above the middle on the y axis.
    ⬇️ In the next tactic, take these questions and generate ideas with a Mind Map.

Use Mind Map to generate ideas


⏱ Time: 25 mins

🧠 Core objective: free associate around the questions to warm up the creative mind.

The Mind Map tactic turns your jumbled thoughts into an interconnected map; a great starting point for idea generation. Filling a page with ideas is hard. Starting with one thing and letting ideas branch off can lead to new and unexpected pathways. This exercise is a great way to warm up everyone’s creative minds.

💡 Tip: this is an exercise in dumping everything in your brain on to paper, and letting any associations naturally occur. You don’t need to try and think of ideas at this stage; just let your mind wander and write down what comes to you. It can be helpful to draw lines between any ideas that connect to help spur more thoughts.


  1. Distribute paper and marker pens to the group. (2 minutes)
  2. Ask the group to write the topic or question to be explored in the middle of their paper. This is where you can use your ‘How Might we…’ question from the previous tactic. (8 minutes)
  3. Give a time limit for the each person to privately write down anything that comes to mind on that subject. (10 minutes)

  4. Ask everyone to share their ideas and write down any recurring topics where they can be used as inspiration for the next tactic. (5 mins)

    ⬇️ In the next tactic, you will continue with more idea generation with Idea Eights.

Use Idea Eights to generate more ideas


⏱ Time: 35 mins

🧠 Core objective: using your Mind Map as a prompt, generate lots of ideas and share them with each other.

The Idea Eights tactic generates a lot of ideas, quickly. Sometimes, to be truly creative, our brains need structure and rules. By restricting space and time, but letting everyone know that anything goes – this tactic forces ideas out, fast. 

💡 Tip: encourage people not to overthink their ideas, you might want to even provide an example or two of how creative people can be. You can also pair up people into teams if your groups is struggling to find ideas alone.


  1. Fold a piece of paper three times to make a grid of eight rectangles. (2 minutes)

  2. Define the problem to solve in the form of a How Might We… question (see tactic one). (2 minutes)
  3. Set a timer for one minute per crazy idea (one idea per box) and encourage each person (or groups of two) to write or draw as many ideas as possible. (8 minutes)

  4. At the end of the eight minutes, ask each person to talk through their ideas and steal each other’s ideas for the next step. You can also use the topics generated during the Mind Map exercise for inspiration. (5 minutes)
  5. Repeat the exercise for different How Might We… questions from the first tactic. You can also give each group a different How Might We… question if you’re tight on time. (8 minutes)
  6. Ask each participant to present their final ideas to the group. (10 minutes)

    ⬇️ In the next tactic, each person chooses their favourite idea and will develop them further with T-Bar Format.


Use T-Bar Format to develop your ideas further


⏱ Time: 30 mins

🧠 Core objective: develop and clarify your ideas by drawing them up.

The T-Bar Format tactic helps you put your ideas into a format that can explain itself. Having clearly articulated ideas in a consistent format makes them easier to understand and compare in a group. It also encourages the development of an idea by expanding on the detail and function.

💡 Tip: to save time have the T-bar format already prepared (step 1) for all participants ready to use. 


Ask every participant to follow these instructions:

  1. For chosen idea, draw a ‘T’ covering the height and width of a piece of paper. (1 minute)
    T-Bar Format
  2. On the right, give your idea a description that is easy to read. Bullet points are your friend. (3 minutes)
  3. Draw your idea on the left. It doesn’t have to be a work of art. It just needs to help communicate your idea. (5 minutes)
  4. At the top, give your idea an inspiring title. The title should communicate your idea clearly. (6 minutes)

Now, as a group:

  1. Each stick your T-Bars up on the wall and present them. (10 minutes)
  2. Prioritise the top three ideas with Secret Vote. (5 minutes)

    ⬇️ In the next tactic, take your prioritised top three ideas and use them with Rose, Thorn, Bud.

Use Rose, Thorn, Bud to evaluate your ideas


⏱ Time: 30 mins

🧠 Core objective: evaluate each idea together, to see how it could be improved, or what might stop it from working.

The Rose, Thorn, Bud tactic allows you to thoroughly evaluate an idea, project or process, identifying positives, negatives and opportunities. Evaluate something as a group in order to find out what you really love about it, what might not be working and how to improve it. 

💡 Tip: we will be using a colour coded system, make sure to have three colours of sticky notes.


  1. Select and agree on the thing you want to evaluate. This is where you can use the three examples you prioritised in the previous tactic. (2 minutes)
  2. Put the three T-Bar Format‘s you prioritised up on the wall so everyone can see it clearly. (2 minute)
  3. Explain the sticky note colour system: (2 minutes)
    – Rose: red sticky notes (positive aspects of the thing)
    – Thorn: yellow sticky notes (negative aspects, or things to watch out for)
    – Bud: green sticky notes (potential opportunities to grow the idea)
  4. Using this system, ask your group to write as many points as they can within a time limit. (5 minutes)

  5. Theme Sort the sticky notes and take it in turns to discuss each person’s point and how to you want to action your ideas. (15 minutes)


What next?


Congratulations you have completed your Idea Storm! You have put a problem through its paces by gathering lots of ideas, narrowing them down and evaluating them.

With all these new ideas, it is time for a Design Dash to get your ideas to a testable solution.

Do you have questions, tips or tricks, etc? Join our Slack community of over 13,000 professionals.

1 thought on “How to lead an Idea Storm”

  1. This is just what I needed. Have the cards was nice but I struggled with putting utilizing in a functional way. This helps me get started and will help me get the most from my purchase. Much appreciated!


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