Light Up Your Group’s Thinking Power

Group Thinking 1

Let’s focus today on online versions of three of my absolute favorite tried and true creative thinking frameworks/techniques.  I have used these for the most complex problem solving sessions that require people to fire up their brains in different ways. We describe the what, when and how of each: Six Thinking Hats, Reverse Problem Solving and Mind Mapping.

Dr. Edward de Bono Six Thinking Hats


De Bono’s Six Thinking Hat technique is a a comprehensive framework when you have only a short period of time to get the juices going in a group and discern top options for solving a problem. This framework can can be completed  in 20-75 minutes as described below.


Essentially de Bono has us moving through different ways of approaching a problem using six different types of thinking. I will give you a suggested “hat” sequence for problem solving based on my understanding of how we think. Note that de Bono’s framework generally  invites you as the facilitator to use any hat order depending on the situation.


The first is white hat thinking: it requires you get all the facts about the problem before you start trying to solve it. The question is: What do we already know about the situation and what would we like to know to deeply understand what is going on?

The second is black hat thinking: You get everyone to think of all the ways things might go wrong, e.g., cautions, or things to objectively criticize about what you’ve done in the past. The question is: What are all the things that have gone wrong so far (please state this objectively) or could go wrong with this project if we don’t come up with the best solution?

The third hat is yellow: It requires the group to think about all the positive things that have been done to approach this problem and/or benefits that might happen if it’s done well in the future. The questions are: What are all the ways that we have been successful in solving this problem in the past? And, what are the benefits if we do solve it well and create a better outcome for us?

The fourth hat is green: This is where the group does the creative brainstorming process and you can use one of the two techniques below for that piece. Reminder: All ideas are welcomed. The Question is: What ideas do we have given this background we’ve just discussed that are innovative, new or tried and true, and impactful? 

The next hat is the blue hat: This is where are you summarize what the thinking has been thus far and where are you might focus your efforts. The questions are: How would you summarize what our thinking is now? Where are you sensing a common theme? Or,  If you were to sum up our top three ideas, what would you say they are?

Finally, you could use the red hat: This is a good check about which solution or ideas might merit further work or resonate most with the group. The question is: What is our gut feeling about which will work best given our current state and resources?

Doing this online would be relatively easy.

  • You could have people break into small groups, generate their thinking for each hat in a small group and then come back and report on their solutions. Then merge solutions.
  • You could do this all together in a group where someone would be taking notes in a chat.
  • You could have them gather together in a visual whiteboard space such as Miro or Mural and have people offer their ideas on virtual sticky notes for all to see.
  • Another option is to have every group member individually think on paper before any group sharing is done. Give them the first three questions only to do this pre large group reflection. This is because the first three hats are essentially to set a foundation of common understanding upon which to generate ideas.

Mind Mapping


The original creator of the Mind Mapping technique is Tony Buzan. There are now many online tools that you can use for Mind Mapping. The original idea was to create a depiction of the ideas around a central image/problem statement/question.  There are branches that flow out of this central image. The branches can include words such as: What, When, How, Where, Who. Or, it might include other key words such as: History, Related Solutions, Past Solutions, New Solutions.

The beauty of Mind Mapping is that it allows you to organize the ideas as you go along even though the group members will mention the ideas in no specific order. For example, one person might state an idea that has to do with the “when” and you put it on that branch. Another person might state the “How” and  you can put it on another branch coming out of the image.


Use this technique with a group that has more diverse or conflicting perspectives so they can see where their ideas connect. Although like the other techniques you can do this quickly, it’s sometimes great to have 90-120 minutes. You will also need a large wall space if you’re doing this in-person and several flipchart pages taped together. Or, you will need someone who can use Mind Mapping software or whiteboard drawing tools fairly skillfully.


Step 1: Put your question with a related image in the center of your whiteboard page. Or, refer to the Resource section for templates for electronic Mindmaps.

Step 2: Have the group members do an individual brainstorm on answers to the question.

Step 3: Have pairs or triads share their ideas and narrow down their top 5 agreed upon ideas.

Step 4: Have each small group share one idea in a round robin. The facilitator asks the group what is the branch I should put this idea on or what would you call this idea in one word? Then have the next group offer their idea in the same way. Have every group share until all the ideas are mapped out.

Step 5: Have each person indicate which ideas are most important to achieving resolution to the problem. They can do this by using  e.g., a Zoom emoticon or symbol to indicate their top three ideas.

Step 6: Have the group summarize what thinking resonates most with them and what are the next steps to starting a prototype any of the key solutions.

Note: An additional step before step 5 and 6, includes asking the group to draw connections between similar ideas and using the same symbol on those correlating ideas. Then they can actually name the solution for the series of correlated or connected ideas.

Reverse Problem Solving


This technique was originally formulated from Charles Thompson from “What a Great Idea”. The purpose of problem reversal is to get group members to think in contradictory ways about a problem. When they do this, they realize how ridiculous some of their previous solutions have been. I hope you will not be offended by my example but you’ll see just how offensive it sounds when you turn the question around to be highly controversial. The key is to give the group enough time to think of ways NOT do something, then everyone begins a 2nd round of brainstorming to reverse the solutions they came up with, in the first round of brainstorming. Think of this technique as brainstorming the opposite of what you want to achieve and then turn those solutions around to get exactly what you want to achieve. The beauty of this technique is that we tend to laugh a lot and this releases tension and our creative juices as well.


This technique is wonderful when the group is  stalled on what seems to be an unsolvable problem. The actual process of reverse brainstorming takes place very quickly, i.e., 10 minutes. Then it’s good to give another 20-30 minutes to do the second stage of this technique. You might follow it up with an action planning process. But the actual brain-lighting portion should only take 30-40 minutes. Additionally, you need a very sharp and clear question to start with that could easily be reversed or stated in negative terms.


Step 1: Each individual brainstorms answers to the reversed problem. For example, thinking about my current project of indigenizing climate change action I might originally pose a question as: “What are all the ways we can support and manifest indigenous wisdom and experience in key areas of climate change action?”

Reversed problem: “What are all the ways we can suppress and minimize indigenous wisdom and experience in finding solutions to climate change? (You can see how offensive this last question sounds but stick with me and try it. You might be surprised at how well the technique works.)

Step 2: Everyone shares 2-3 top ideas to the reserve problem statement/question with the whole group. You could screen share a document where someone is typing in this list of ideas. Keep asking the group to brainstorm ideas. Give them a time limit of 10 minutes depending on the size of the group. You might want to aim for 20-30 ideas.

Step 3: Go back to the positively stated problem question and ask the group what new ideas can we come up with based on our reversed problem ideas to actually solve the probelm?

Step 4: Read out all of the ideas  to the positive question and help the group merge common ideas.  You could use ToP Consensus Workshop to  identify hand gain agreement on the key solutions.

Step 5: Bring closure to the session once they have themed their ideas asking, “What words jump out at you? What’s the breakthrough? What does this thinking tell us about potential solutions? What do we need to do now? Where shall we put our initial efforts?”


As an added metaphor for thinking about how to light up the group brain, watch this beautiful video of changing lights that were at the famous Butchart Gardens in Victoria for the month of December and early January.

Note:  you’ll hear some talking in the background but notice the placement of the lighting…



If you want more ideas  about a being masterful in generating creative idea generation in a group, try our PDF guide called “Creativity and Innovation – The Art of Group Innovative Think”. It covers these four areas:

  1. Creativity exercises/mental energizers to start the group thinking process
  2. General brainstorming tools – Tips, tools and questions
  3. Visual tools to stimulate thinking.
  4. Kinesthetic (movement) and auditory (e.g., music( exercises to stimulate creativity.

Our PDF guide on Mind Mapping includes helpful resources.

Lucid Meetings has some info on reverse brainstorming.

Use Canva to create a beautiful product from your mind mapping session.

Use Miro platform for mind mapping (video on how to do).

They also have a resource for doing online brainstorming:



Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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