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The 8 Types of People You Need in a Brainstorm

The best brainstorms are composed of six to eight people from diverse backgrounds who are committed to the success of a central project.
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Summertime is slowly but surely giving way to fall and that means one thing: vacations are over and it is time to get back to work! Your team needs some inspiration and they need it now. The best way to do that is by gathering your team together to bounce ideas off of each other. I recently came across a cool infographic from Central Desktop that listed "The Nine Types of Collaborators." It's a funny and thoughtful graphic and I thought I'd take my own spin on a similar theme around the types of people that are needed to create a vibrant, productive brainstorm.

A few ground rules and best practices: the best brainstorms are composed of six to eight people from diverse backgrounds who are committed to the success of a central project. If there are too many people in the meeting, it becomes an exercise in personality management whereas too few can limit the creativity. The following personality types do not represent individual people; rather, it is possible that a single person on your team can represent two or more of these traits. So without further ado, here are the key ingredients of a successful brainstorm.

#1 - The Fearless Leader

This person calls the meeting and will be charged with providing the structure for the brainstorm. Creativity can flourish within boundaries so this person will help participants focus and keep the conversation on track. The leader must also be able to understand the personalities within the room and be able to diffuse any hostility or tension if need be, and even draw people in who may fall silent.

#2 - Content Expert

The content expert is a person who has seen it all and done it all within a particular area. This person has extensive expertise in a given subject and can share his or her views and experiences intelligently with the group. Oftentimes, this person serves as an excellent resource for a problem's perceived limitations or challenges as they will have faced them regularly for a long period of time. In a brainstorm, it is often good to have multiple experts in different areas to help gain new perspectives on old challenges.

#3 - The Novice

This person's ambition and can-do attitude is the group's gain. Wide open eyes and unbiased views into entrenched problems can help identify new ways to circumvent challenges that more experienced eyes could have missed.

#4 - The Acrobat

The acrobat is able to generate great ideas by flipping them on their head. Oftentimes, brainstorms skid to a halt when the group fixates on one component of the problem. The acrobat urges teammates to look at the challenge from multiple angles which helps the group identify the primary inhibitor of success. For example on a given problem, the acrobat may suggest something completely opposite of what everyone is thinking which immediately sparks the thought, "That cannot be done!" (which may be true!). If you are brainstorming about a new pricing structure, he or she may suggest to simply give the product away for free. Although this is not a likely path, it may inspire a middle ground idea that is within the realm of possibility and may push the group just enough outside of their comfort zone to consider something new.

#5 - The Agitator

This person pushes people beyond their comfort zone. Rather than warmly accepting all of their colleagues', the agitator is skeptical and is not afraid of a little tension. By no means is this person aggressive or openly hostile, but they are not afraid to stand up for their own ideas and challenge others to defend theirs or suggest wild counters to spark new ones. This person is critical in helping to avoid groupthink and ensure that everyone is truly mentally engaged.

#6 - The Spark Plug

Spark plugs are people that are able to generate large ideas that are unencumbered by real world limitations like gravity or time. Nothing is off limits or taboo for this person. Ideas may include something as impossible as "a floating shelf". The spark plug often delivers the broad brush strokes to creating innovative solutions to big problems. Problems can arise if there are too many of this personality type in the room as wonderfully creative and brilliant ideas will be formed and cultivated that have no tie to anything that can actually be applied in the real world.

#7 - The Translator

That is why it is so important to have a translator among the group. These practical thinkers have their feet firmly on the ground and are able to break down lofty ideas into action items that move the project forward. The translator receives a bad rap within brainstorms because of their focus on the here and now rather than what's possible; however, that is why they are absolutely essential. A group of smart, talented people can create wonderfully elaborate solutions to problems but it is the translator that acts as a project manager to create realistic goals and achievements.

#8 - The Artist

An underrated, yet vitally important, role within a brainstorm is the graphic facilitation. Rather than simply tossing word lists together, I recommend graphically recording conversations in ways that inspire not only the participants in the session, but lasting memories of the energy created within the session after the fact. Images have much more impact on peoples' minds and ability to connect important ideas together than small print on a big wall. Words tend to lose the emotion that is created in the moment as important thoughts cannot be stressed beyond underlining them multiple times. Graphic visualization can be done by anyone - you don't need to be artistic for this role -- and can keep everyone on the same page much more easily. For more information, check out Dan Roam's book, The Back of the Napkin, or better yet his school,

Did I miss anyone? If so, let me know in the comments below what personality types you look for in a brainstorming meeting.

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