How to Run a Crazy 8 Brainstorming Session

Crazy 8 Brainstorm Session

My favorite creative projects always include Crazy 8 brainstorming and they usually start something like this:

A client comes in with an open-ended prompt; they need to build a use case for a new technology or maybe they’re facing a problem within their product and are unsure how to fix it. Either way, the client needs our help to find the correct answer or approach and this gives us the freedom to explore and be creative.

What more could I ask for? I get really excited, do a ton of research to understand my client’s users, pain points, etc. and then I finally put pencil to paper – BLANK. The open-ended prompt stuns me into a creative block. I recognize the amount of possibility and begin to worry that whatever I sketch on my paper will not be good enough. But then I look around the room and realize I can tap into our team’s diverse experiences and ideas and use it to my advantage.

But how can I get help from others when they have also have so much on their plate? How can I transfer the knowledge I’ve gained from weeks or months of research to my teammates?

The answer: Crazy 8s Session!

Crazy 8s is a fast sketching exercise that challenges people to sketch eight ideas in eight minutes. It’s the perfect exercise to get your own creative juices flowing and to draw out ideas from others. A brainstorming session with six to eight people, it’s short, wacky, fun – and most importantly, is a launchpad for iterative ideas. This exercise helps to generate ideas based on focused questions and research that takes advantage of your teammates’ amazing intellect. As a result, you will collect ~72 IDEAS within an hour. Not all ideas will be stellar – but you’ll get ideas to iterate, morph, shape, and you will leave feeling inspired.

Here are some tips based on how I have conducted my sessions:

1. Select your group wisely.

Invite a small, diverse group from your office to help you out for an hour. My last Crazy 8 session included one marketing expert, two engineers, three product managers, and three designers. It will be helpful if people have worked on projects in the same industry or for similar users to have a foundational understanding.

2. Create a killer research deck.

Summarize the research you’ve done; including exactly who your client’s users are and their pain points. Make sure to lay out the current user journey and their needs or fears. Tell the story of your user. It’s okay to not know everything – just give the group a foundation.

3. How might we…?

To get the most out of this session, you need to pinpoint what you are solving before you gather everyone. Several days before the session, break down your larger challenge into actionable “how might we…” or “HMW” questions. These questions should be broad enough to let people explore many ideas to solve it, yet narrow enough to frame your brainstorming session. Then sort, prioritize, and narrow down the list. You will want to focus on one HMW.

4. Prep.

You should be prepared, engaging, and concise. Book your conference room, gather all materials (paper cut in half, markers, tape) and maybe order some snacks (who doesn’t love cookies?!). Make sure you have gone through your deck, practice with a buddy to work out any awkward kinks, and know what to say and exactly what you are asking for from your peers.

5. Crazy 8s!

When the session begins, present your findings and the HMWs. After that, it is finally time to brainstorm! Tell everyone they have eight minutes (I actually give 10) to sketch out at least eight different ideas on the half sheets of paper. One idea per half sheet. Nine people x eight sketches = 72 IDEAS. These ideas can be wacky, simple, anything.

6. Organize.

When the time is up, ask people to quickly share their ideas and their drawings. This may be nerve-wracking for some, so break the ice by going first. This is really informal, so encourage others to jump in if they have similar ideas or additional thoughts. As drawings go on the wall, start to organize them to see which are similar to create general buckets & themes.

7. Express thankfulness & enthusiasm

Remember that people have likely volunteered to participate from other teams within your organization. Thus, expressing gratitude and validating their value is extremely important. People love to feel that their voice matters, show them that their time and ideas matter by expressing enthusiasm the entire time. Prior to the session, tell your volunteers how excited you are to hear their ideas, during the session encourage their ideas and questions, and after the session follow-up with a thank you.

8. Teamwork.

Debrief your team to share specific ideas and themes. Dig into ideas and pull out interesting aspects from all of them. Go in and out of ideas, look at specific details for aspects that you like and could find inspiration from and then go back out to understand what the ideas are trying to do. Maybe the idea itself is not strong, but the concept of what it could become is amazing. Create three final ideas and make prototypes to bring to users. Again, these don’t have to be beautiful, just good enough to convey concepts.

9. Test & iterate.

Talk to your end users about the concepts and prototypes. Again, they may like the concept, but not the way it was executed. Listen and narrow it down to one idea. You can even take that idea and pull out all of the descriptors that were liked to generate ideas based on those descriptions. It is a cyclical process that will keep turning, so keep prototyping and talking to users from here.

With all of the research, iteration, and thought you’ve put into the process, an actionable idea will be sure to blossom. If you get stuck, run through the entire process again. It’s never a failure to continue learning.

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