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Brainstorming is an attempt to leverage the creative power of a group of people who are trying to solve a problem by encouraging them to come up with as many different ideas as possible. I’ve found that the real breakthroughs come when you go instead for the really crazy ideas.  Seriously. One of my favorite peer leadership activities illustrates this.

THE HOT TUB ACTIVITY

Step 1: (without the client) write several features on note cards, one feature per card. The feature needs to be outrageous. For example, if you’re creating a portable MP3 player, try adding features like “makes cappuccino.”  If you build a software system that manages payroll, try adding features like “finds you a  girlfriend/boyfriend.” If you’re constructing an office building, the feature might be “has a hot tub in the lobby.”

Step 2: (with the client) Customers are read the list and are encouraged to identify the features that they really would like to have among the ones brainstormed.

Step 3: At that point, the preferred three outrageous features are analyzed in depth so that the team might understand what makes them so attractive for the customer.

WHY THE HOT TUB ACTIVITY?

I use this activity to encourage creativity and mutual understanding between service teams and customers.

It’s an alternative to a rote system requirements session or to the likely “are you crazy?” look you would get if you were to ask your customers the innocent question “What outrageous features would you like to have?”

The activity gives you instead a fast-moving, enjoyable session where people get into possibility-thinking with humor and good spirit.

What outrageous yet useful input could you get from your clients with this activity?