The 4 Cs Of Brainstorming: Tips For Instructional Designers

How to Ride the Tornado of Brainstorming and Make It Safely to Oz

Brainstorming Tips For Instructional Designer

The very word conjures up images of a brain caught in a tornado, doesn’t it? When I started out as an instructional designer (ID), that’s exactly how I felt in brainstorming sessions—caught in a whirlwind of ideas and concepts, sometimes uncertain of how to express my ideas clearly and confidently. Now it’s one of my favorite parts of my job. How did I go from feeling like an apprehensive Dorothy spinning around her house on her way to Oz to being eager for opportunities to brainstorm? I like to break it down to four Cs, which I’ll share with you in this article.

IDs are often engaged to brainstorm and develop new solutions as part of a larger team composed of engineers, creative artists, project managers, and even salespeople, especially since e-learning has changed so radically to embrace new modalities. With such powerhouse players at the table, an awesome, cutting-edge solution is almost inevitable! Like pushing against the wind, this powerful team may include a diversity of strengths and personalities that can be somewhat challenging to the ID. To me, the key to successful brainstorming is understanding how you can emerge as a leader and hold the banner of instructional integrity high, while still allowing others to shine. And that’s exactly what these four Cs of brainstorming are designed to help you do.

  • Collaboration
    As one equal part of a team, know that you are completely empowered to represent the ID voice within the solution. Your opinion, representing the instructional perspective, is extremely important and essential, and carries the same weight as the opinions of the any other team members. Always remember the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Confidence
    You are an equal partner and you are encouraged to exhibit the demeanor of a confident and organized leader.

    • Don’t wait for someone else to create an agenda for a brainstorming meeting. Go for it!
    • Come to the meeting with at least one idea on treatment or creative approach to the content. Trust your gut and always be prepared to present and defend your ideas, while of course listening to others and being open. (I’ll address creativity below—it’s the next C!).
    • When wrapping up a meeting, restate next steps, pending items, and related due dates. It’s a best practice to document this information in a follow-up email. As an ID, you bring an expert ability to take notes and record information to keep the process going, which enhances your value to the team effort.
  • Creativity
    In brainstorming, no idea is too big, too small, or not good enough. Bring any creative, instructionally sound idea to the group even if it seems completely out of scope. Your idea may be a launching point for the solution’s direction.

    • Review past solutions that may be similar in nature. You can always reach out to your trusted peers/colleagues for fresh ideas.
    • Become inspired by any work you have done in the past or by examples you find on the Internet. Create a Pinterest board for your ideas for this solution or perhaps maintain a board filled with cool design ideas you gather day to day. You can even set the board to “secret” if you feel your thoughts aren’t quite ready for prime time.
  • Clarity
    Practice clear communication yourself, and ask for clarity when needed.

    • When brainstorming, some people’s natural style includes talking quickly and throwing out ideas in various directions. If you can keep up, great! If you don’t understand the context of something, speak up. Chances are you are not the only one who might be missing something. You might not have knowledge of a previous project or you might need further explanation.
    • Always listen and be open to the ideas provided by others. As you listen, determine if the ideas are instructionally sound. If the conversation shifts toward functionality and visual appeal, be an advocate for the learner and offer ideas that combine effective training and engagement.
    • Let others express their ideas, and also feel empowered to push back in a respectful way. Cite solid instructional design principles as justification for your objection. And, most important, follow up your objections with suggestions that are instructionally sound, creative, and interesting. This type of listening and constructive input will show you are a valuable member of the team and help move your brainstorming meeting forward.

Keeping these four Cs in mind, you’ll learn to view brainstorming as a fun ride, even if it is sometimes a little bumpy. Explore new options, learn from your talented teammates, and enjoy the process. It’s a great feeling to collaborate and land on the perfect solution—and just like landing on the beautiful and shiny yellow brick road, you’ve arrived, and yet your journey is just beginning!

Want to learn more about brainstorming or other valuable tips for being a top-notch instructional designer? Check out Catherine Davis’s new eBook, How to Be a Rock Star Instructional Designer: Learn the Ropes from a Corporate Training Veteran and Super Charge Your Career!

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