This format for brainstorming compresses the essentials of an ideation session into one short format. The numbers 3-12-3 refer to the amount of time in minutes given to each of three activities: 3 minutes for generating a pool of observations, 12 for combining those observations into rough concepts, and 3 again for presenting the concepts back to a group.
To generate ideas on a given topic in less than 25 minutes.
You will need a topic on which to brainstorm ideas, boiled down to two words. This could be an existing problem, such as “energy efficiency,” or it could be focused on creating something new, such as “tomorrow’s television.”
3 Minutes: Generate a Pool of Aspects. For the first three minutes of the exercise, participants are asked to think about the characteristics of the topic at hand and to write down as many of them as they can on separate index cards.
12 Minutes: Develop Concepts. At this point the group is divided into pairs. Each team draws three cards randomly from the pool. With these as thought starters, the teams now have 12 minutes to develop a concept to present back to the larger group. If the two topic words are sufficient to explain the challenge, the clock starts and the teams begin. If there is any doubt, reveal a more fleshed-out version of the topic’s focus, such as “How will we become more energy-efficient next quarter?” In developing concepts to present, teams may create rough sketches, prototypes, or other media—the key is in preparing for a short (three-minute maximum) presentation of their concept back to the group.
3 Minutes: Make Presentations. When presenting to the larger group, teams may reveal the cards that they drew and how the cards influenced their thinking. After every team has presented, the entire group may reflect on what was uncovered.
Note: Speed is key. Many traditional brainstorming techniques can be slowed down or fouled entirely when time is not of the essence, despite the best intentions of participants. Additionally, speed helps prove the value of what can be accomplished in short bursts—often the important aspects of good ideas can be captured very quickly and do not require laborious discussion before first coming to light.
The 3-12-3 Brainstorm game is credited to James Macanufo.