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The paper clip method

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15 - 2010 - 50 Low
The power of brainstorming. A training for project leaders, creativity training, and to catalyse getting new solutions.


People will see the power of brainstorming.





    Types of participants: helpful for all levels and types

    Assemble materials.


    Start by showing the group a large paperclip.
    Ask the persons to write down within 5 minutes ( or 3 or 2) as many uses as possible for a paperclip.
    After the two minutes ask the group which person has the most uses on their paper. Write down the number of possible uses the person with the longest list has mentioned.
    After that ask the first person of the group to mention their first use. Ask the rest of the group to delete the item ( if they have the same ) on their paper. Ask the second, and so on. Beware, everybody has to mention one item at the time,
    The facilitator writes down every possible use mentioned, without discussion. When all possible uses are mentioned the facilitator counts all the items which are written down on the whiteboard.
    Note to the group that there are many more items on the whiteboard than the person with the longest individual list had.
    After that you will always get remarks about the issues. People will say that use 1 looks a lot like use 20, for example. This is a good bridge: you can say that we should not start a brainstorm with pre-discrimination or clustering but that the clustering will be done following the brainstorm.
    After that and with this exercise in mind, participants will be better able to do a brainstorm about any issue you need a brainstorm for, because it is proven that brainstorming can work.

    How success is evaluated: by showing on the whiteboard that the group has a larger number of the number of possible uses of a paperclip than any one person can think of.


    Follow-Up Required: Follow with a brainstorm on a topic that is real for the group to build on the learning.


    Source: Jan Visser

    Alternative names: Brainstorm start up

    Comments (4) (4.5 avg / 6 ratings)

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    • I used this method as the opening of a 2-day workshop and the response was very positive. It was just the right approach to get several teams in the right mindset for an intense working session. Together we achieve more.

      over 5 years ago
    • Nice one.

      over 5 years ago
    • over 6 years ago
    • I would like to thank you for the Paper Clip method. I used it in a day-long Faculty Development Program (FDP) on 23 June 2017 near New Delhi, India, with amazing results. The FDP had 20 teachers (post-graduate management schools) in six teams of 3-4 members. Their solutions were wild, funny, and out of this world! Even the quietest members opened out, and were vociferous in their participation. I used it to demonstrate the idea that problem-based activities would engage their students more than their lectures. I had also suggested to them that they should not, as facilitators, judge or evaluate the responses. Here are some of their brief action plans that were made at the end of the FDP: 1. To use new teaching methods by including small games. 2. New methods so as to help in engaging the students. 3. Engaging sessions- by making by making sessions interesting. 4. Use some games in the class like Paper Clip. I need to collect structured feedback from participants, so that we can extract insights from such feedback. There will be 50-55 bank managers (of age 30-35 years) in my next Paper Clip session on 26 July. Is there any scale available?

      over 6 years ago