Do you have an annual event that has gotten stale? Or are you doing a promotion and want to go beyond the usual flier and email campaign?

I have had great luck with a simple technique based on random word association.

Try this at your next meeting with your group: Ask each staff member to bring 10 random words or phrases written on separate slips of paper.


  1. At the meeting, introduce the problem or situation for which you need new ideas.
  2. Set a timer for 8 minutes and throw all of the pieces of paper in the middle of the table.
  3. Each person takes one piece of paper at a time and uses it as inspiration to write down ideas.

At this stage no ideas are bad ideas. The goal is to move quickly and generate as many ideas as possible. Encourage everyone to come up with at least 50 ideas. They may not get that far, but by setting a high goal you are emphasizing the quantity over quality. Quality comes later.

When 8 minutes are up, take turns going around the room so each person can share one of the ideas from their list. I recommend pausing after each round of sharing for discussion about the ideas presented and a chance to see how different team members’ ideas can connect or build on one another. Keep going around the room as long as you need to keep inserting new energy into the discussion.

My team used this creative thinking exercise to come up with new ideas for an appreciation event for our program. At first, staff were confused how words like mustard and Jon Bon Jovi were supposed to help us plan. After a minute of awkward silence, the laughter started and ideas began flowing. By the end we had a new tradition of a BBQ in a historic barn with live music. I hope it brings you in creative new directions!

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