Think-Pair-Share is a collaborative brainstorming technique that mines the collective genius of a group in such a way that all voices are heard and a greater number of ideas can be generated. The exercise is simple and can even be applied beyond brainstorming scenarios to effectively generate new thinking and illicit ideas from all members of a group.
Think-Pair-Share requires participants to: 1) think individually about a topic and develop questions, 2) pair with a partner to discuss their ideas, and then 3) share their agreed upon best ideas or questions to the larger group.
In a brainstorm session or meeting, it is often the loudest, most confident, or most senior people who dominate a conversation. The result is that the best or most innovative ideas don’t always come to surface, because not all members of the group are given space to contribute. Think-Pair-Share leverages individual and group work with clear time boundaries to ensure all voices are heard.
At Unreasonable, we use the Think-Pair-Share methodology in any scenario in which we need to generate ideas as a group: team retreats, workshops, meetings, or on calls when we need to rapidly surface new thoughts in order to solve a specific problem.
Design a Problem Statement and Set the Context
Present the Problem Statement (~5 mins): At Unreasonable, a standard problem statement is, “How might we 10x our customer base in two years?” Here’s a great resource for developing your own “How might we” statement.
Ask clarifying questions (~3-7 mins): Once the challenge has been presented, the group runs through a Think-Share exercise to develop as many clarifying questions to that challenge as possible. If there is a facilitator for the exercise, that individual should model the procedure to ensure that participants understand how to use the strategy. The facilitator should monitor and support the participants as they work through the different aspects of the exercise within the assigned time constraints.
Offer Brainstorm Tips
Most of us have brainstormed before, but we often forget some of the key elements present in a valuable brainstorm. At this stage we remind the group of the three simple brainstorm tips we use to encourage the right headspace:
Quantity over Quality: This tip is about generating as many ideas as possible. It’s a simple statistical fact that if we generate 1,000 ideas as opposed 10 ideas, the chances that we find a never before thought of idea or a suggestion that spurs radical new thinking increase dramatically.
Defer Judgement: This tip is about deferring judgement on others’ ideas, but also on your own. We’re often our harshest critic, and we encourage participants not to censor their ideas out of concern that they might be inadequate. Another way to think about this is that all participants should have at least two or three “bad” ideas.
Go Wild + Go Crazy: Wild and seemingly crazy ideas inspire and generate new thinking. Often times right next to the wildest idea of turning carbon into food for astronauts is a powerful solution; In this case it’s one of our companies, Kiverdi, who transforms CO2 and other gases into high-valued oils, nutrients and bio-based products.
Do the dang thing
Individually, each participant brainstorms and writes down as many solutions as they possibly can, writing each idea on an individual post-it. In a five minute Think session you might aim to get 20 or 40 ideas.
Each participant teams up with one other partner to share out their ideas (limiting it to 10 seconds per idea), discuss, and then generate new ideas together. Depending on the context, we sometimes introduce 3-6 creative prompts to help spur new thinking or focus groups in a particular area. Prompts we often use include:
Moonshot: This is your wildest and craziest (we find it really helpful when the facilitator gives examples of what constitutes a moonshot).
Just Do It: This is the idea that is so obviously needed or is such low hanging fruit, you have to do it.
Time Poor + Cash Poor: This idea can only be done with $10,000 and within three months, or some other time and cash constraints you choose.
Most impactful on Biz or Customer: These are some of the strongest prompts, but it’s helpful to choose only one.
When you have groups of more than 12 people it is helpful to follow “Pair” with “Square”, combining two groups of two in order to share ideas, generate new ideas, or focus the ideas across multiple prompts. The “Square” helps larger groups of participants ensure all voices are heard without requiring 45 minutes for everyone to share out with the entire room.
Each group of two (or four if you have “squared”) people share out their ideas with the entire room. We advise asking people to limit the sharing of their ideas to 10-30 seconds per idea. In cases where you have used prompts, it’s helpful to have all groups share against a single prompt and then move on to the next prompt. In cases where there is limited time or too many ideas, you can also ask for groups to only share the top two or three ideas against each prompt.
A properly framed “How might we” statement doesn’t suggest a solution or sound so open ended that it fails to address the specific challenge faced. It should provide enough scaffolding and specificity to get ideas flowing. An example of a strong problem statement is: “How might we secure strategic partnerships (e.g. production, distribution, financing…) across India so that our product can reach the last mile and bottom of the pyramid?”
Time block each section ahead of time and let groups know how much time they will have for each section. Be rigorous about adhering to your time goals.
Be flexible with the different models based on what you’re doing, the time available to you, and the size of group. For example, you might:
- Think – Share
- Think – Pair – Share
- Think – Pair – Square (this can be used when you don’t have enough time for all groups to share out with the room but you want people to be able to share their pair work)
- Think – Pair – Square – Share