Brainstorming is at the core of the Reese News Lab culture.
On the first day at the lab, one of the things we did was brainstorm uses for a stress ball. I thought, “What can you do with a stress ball?” Some of my peers were coming up with the craziest ideas and that’s when I thought, “Does it have to work? Be functional?” Many of the ideas my peers were yelling included, using it as nail polish…. And I kept thinking, “How can this be? A stress ball and nail polish?” and then one of them said “Yes you can put it in a liquid and paint your nails with the paint that rubs of”… “Interesting,” I thought.
As a person who thinks that I can figure everything out, it made a lot of sense that we would have brainstorming sessions in order to get our brains thinking outside of the box, a warm-up session. What I did not expect was the way my brain was going to hurt at the end of each day. The more we did it, the crazier the ideas became and the deeper into my brain I needed to dig. I found myself going back to my deepest memories and using them to come up with ideas. I remembered stuff I had already forgotten happened to me. I also imagined places and things I had never seen.
The warm-up session
I like to call it the warm-up session because this is the way we started working our brains. During this time we would brainstorm on uses for an object and Samantha Harrington, assistant to the director, would write them down on a gigantic post-it on the wall. One of the first things that John Clark, director of the lab, said after the first session was that he wanted “quantity not quality” and that he didn’t want us to criticize each other’s ideas because that might filter out great ideas.
On Friday, we were introduced to the matrix. I believed John noticed we were getting stuck on the same, too-broad ideas for our three challenges. He said that ideas become more specific and creative when you bring them to a constrained environment.
The matrix is a grid that they made on a dry-erase board using tape. On the first vertical column, we would add platforms/ places where ideas could be used. On the first horizontal column, we put types of people who would use our idea. The last square at the end of each column included a wildcard, which means the ideas in that column did not have to apply to any of the platforms/ places or people we had specified.
The first time we used the matrix, we had three different brainstorming sessions, one for each challenge. The matrix gave us freedom in constraints. In part, I felt that I was coming up with a product for a specific person, who could use it in a specific place, at a specific time. Therefore, it allowed me to picture that person with their family and loved ones while I came up with a product that made their life easier.
Aside from giving us more freedom to come up with more specific ideas, the wildcard aspect of the matrix allowed us to produce ideas that could be used by someone else other than the prospective customers.
We wrote the ideas we came up with on a post-it card and placed them on the square where they belonged. For example, if the idea was for parents to use on their mobile phone, we would place our idea on that square on the matrix.
Both the warm-up sessions and Matrix were done individually and in groups. Last but not least, John advised us to keep a notepad with us in case we came up with ideas throughout the day when we were not brainstorming, as well as drawing the ideas out so they would become more tangible.
Brainstorming helped us come up with great ideas and build them up. When we shared them with the rest of the group, other team members would add to them or come up with new ideas based on what we said. Through brainstorming, we freed up our thoughts and learnt to trust the process.