Everyone knows about brainstorms but did you know there are three other types of storms that can blow you to your innovation destination?


First introduced in The Innovator’s DNA, these storms happen at the start of an innovation effort and seek to surface all the assumptions, expectations, concerns, and actual questions currently locked in individuals’ brains. 

The value of this session is that it makes the implicit explicit, removes hidden agendas, eliminates guessing games, and establishes a culture of curiosity, exploration, and learning versus demands and fear.

You run Questionstorms just like brainstorms – give everyone 3-5 minutes to silently write a long list of thoughts.  Then, give everyone another 3-5 minutes to turn each thought into a question and write the question on a sticky note.  For example, “We need to realize $250M revenue in Year 3 to make this work” becomes “How might we design and run an innovation function that generates $250M in Year 3?”  Then, each person reads their sticky notes to the group before placing them on a wall.  The goal is to ask 50 questions before you start grouping and prioritizing.


I first learned about this storm from IDEO and am genuinely surprised by how effectively they re-energize teams and propel the work forward.  These storms happen after the first phase of a project, usually the research phase.

An Intuition-storm’s value comes from its ability to pull the team out of the minutiae of the previous weeks and months of work and back up to seeing the big picture.  In the process, they rapidly synthesize insights that may have gotten lost in the more traditional left-brained approach of gathering and summarizing details. 

Again, just like brainstorms, start by posing the big question that the project intends to answer, then give people 3-5 minutes to write down their answers.  Too much time and they may dig into documents and details, too little time and you’ll get recency bias in the responses.  Then go around the room and share.  Once everyone has shared, discuss the elements in common and the unique ones.  Be clear that this isn’t about getting to THE answer, but about tapping into the full of everyone’s experience, expertise, and wisdom.


By now, we all know what it means to brainstorm, and we’ve all probably been part of one or two brainstorming sessions.  But do you know where it all started?

In the mid-nineteenth century, “brainstorm” was a colloquial term for “fit of acute delirious mania; sudden dethronement of reason and will under the stress of strong emotion, usually accompanied by manifestations of violence.”  Not exactly the type of thing most businesspeople aim for.

However, in 1939, advertising executive Alex F. Osborn got so frustrated with his employees’ ability to generate creative ideas for ad campaigns that he developed a new approach dubbed “organized ideation.”  This approach, later renamed to “brainstorm” by his employees, was governed by four rules:

  1. Go for quantity
  2. Withhold criticism
  3. Welcome wild ideas
  4. Combine and improve ideas

While the methods and tools for brainstorming have evolved over the past 80+ years, it’s a testament to Osborn’s approach that the rules have not.


Assumption-storms are rooted in the Discovery Driven Planning approach introduced by Rita Gunther-McGrath.  These storms should occur as soon as you’ve picked the top 2-3 ideas from brainstorming that you want to pursue

By forcing the team to acknowledge that there are more unknowns than knowns at this point in the process and to share their assumptions and questions, Assumption-storms enable the team to quickly identify and test the most critical assumptions.  This process of rapid testing of individual assumptions ensures that if a “deal-killer” assumption is wrong, the project is quickly killed and a new one started.

To Assumption-storm, gather your team around the idea(s) to be pursued and list all the things you think you know but can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt AND all the things you don’t know.  Then rate each item (assumption) from High to Low based on how confident you are that the assumption is true and the negative impact to the idea if the assumption is wrong.

Because we all tend to be overconfident in our own knowledge, I like to base the High/Medium/Low scale for confidence based on what you would bet. High confidence means you’re willing to bet your annual salary, Medium confidence means you’ll bet your next paycheck, and no confidence means you bet a cup of tea. 

Once assessed for confidence and impact, the assumptions with Low Confidence and High Impact are identified as deal-killers, and you can start to develop the experiments you’ll run to help you build confidence (or kill the idea) in the next 90-days.

Storms are a-brewin.’

And that’s a good thing.  As you progress through your innovation efforts, you’ll face many storms. Some are damaging and unexpected.  Luckily, these four can not only be planned, they also propel you forward.