How to Master the Art of Brainstorming [Video]

June 29, 2017


From the importance of using effective language to the power of sticky notes, learn how to brainstorm more effectively with tips from Matt Di Paola.

As Managing Director, Innovation at leading Toronto creative services firm Sid Lee, Di Paola and his team works with high-profile North American clients including Boeing, Movember and Subway.

Di Paola sat down with the FreshBooks blog and shared how to cook-up brilliant ideas by taking brainstorming back to basics. Watch the video and read complete transcription below!

Brainstorming: Whether you’re a startup, a big brand or a contractor, brainstorming is as old-school as it gets. All you need is a Sharpie and some sticky notes.

Step 1: Start with Icebreakers

It’s really important to incorporate a bit of an icebreaker because you’re going to have people in the room who are both extroverts and introverts. We’ll often do just a few fun exercises—something light to get the blood flowing, get the laughter going, trying to get them talking.



Get everyone to participate a little bit in the room because once they hear their own voice, they’re more likely to participate later in the day.

Step 2: Frame the Problem to Solve

A lot of times what we try to do is give really specific constraints to work within. Give a framework for what it is and the problem that we’re going to try to solve in the room.

Step 3: Use Effective Language

There are three key phrases I often use with people to set the tone:

  1. “Yes, and…”

There are going to be people in the room who are quick to say, “No, you can’t do that. That’s not possible.” So “yes” shows a sign that you’re agreeing and acknowledging the value of their idea. “And” is a builder that allows you to build on their idea to take it to that next level.

  1. “What if…?”

If you really want to get into some blue-sky thinking, use “what if” statements. “What if we did this?” “What if this happened?” When you start to frame questions around “what ifs,” it allows people to get outside of their boundaries and constraints to really get into blue-sky thinking and come up with some bigger ideas.

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  1. “How might we…?”

It gets away from people saying: “You can’t do this.” Instead, it’s “Okay, how might we accomplish this?” “What if we did it that way?”

You start to combine those things to get to solution-focused statements and really let people build on the thoughts with each other.

Step 4: Try the Sticky Note Method

The beauty of Sharpies and sticky notes is that it allows you to get a lot of ideas really quickly. For instance, we’ve set up the constraints for the day; we’ve set up some problems we’re trying to solve. Now we’ve got people participating—there’s a lot of chatter.

What we want to do is give everybody their own pad of sticky notes and give everybody their own pen. What you want them to do is write down as many ideas that come to mind in a very constrained time. Once you’ve done that, you put that stuff away and get them to do it again. The next step in the phase is getting all those sticky notes up on the wall. Lastly, make sure everybody has five stickers; it allows you to place the stickers on the ideas you like.

Everyone gets five votes so it’s completely democratic. Once you’ve got all the stickers against the ideas, then you take the ones with the most votes and they go onto the next level.


about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.