The Geography of Ideas

15th October 2014

One of the most important areas in any creative thinking process, and one often ignored in brainstorm sessions, is The Geography of Ideas.

A definition of Geography is – ‘ the nature and relative arrangement of people and places’. With regards to brainstorming, the relative arrangement of people and how they interact in a creative thinking session, is fundamental to its success.

The pressure on organisations to have quick ideas, especially in the creative and sales industries, encourages teams to use fast and easy methods for idea generation.

In actual fact, this means that people end up using ineffective, traditional techniques. This often means gathering around a table in an uninspiring office, with individuals calling out their ideas as one person takes notes. Some ideas are written down and some are not. There is an attempt to build on ideas, but the recording process makes this difficult.

Worse than this, the fact that one person is the arbiter of what is written down (is a ‘good’ idea) and what isn’t, means that there is no general sense of inclusivity. Most participants have no sense of control as this lies with the scribe. The creative, geographic focus of the session is on one person – the flow of inputs is radial, rather than concentric – and there is no sense of creative democracy.


There are many weird and wondrous tools one can use in the creative process, in order to look at challenges from fresh and interesting perspectives; but the easiest way to boost creative outputs, is to get the basics right.

Some of these basics are – where the creativity session is being held, who is in the brainstorm, how are contributions being encouraged and (perhaps surprisingly) most importantly – how are the outputs being recorded?


The geography of participants (the relative arrangement of people in a session) and how they interact, is important due to the simple truth that the best ideas live in the ‘spaces between us’. We can be creative on our own, but we can be much more creative with others.

The easiest way to boost brainstorm outputs, is to energise these creative spaces.

It is easy to improve the geography of a brainstorm by using a simple prop such as a flipchart, ideally with a neutral scribe recording inputs. This provides a (relatively) neutral focus for participants. People feel a greater sense of shared idea ownership around the flipchart and the ‘creative spaces’ are much more likely to be energised.

Post-it notes work even better, as contributors have direct creative control – via pen and paper. Another level up, are products such as artefact cards – in effect high end post-it notes; which allow for the easy submission and arrangement of ideas ( ) NB : I have no connection with this product, I just think it’s a damn fine idea.

The creator of this product, John Willshire (@willsh) gave a very interesting talk at the Dots Connecting Ideas conference as part of the Brighton Digital Festival . His talk here –

John provided some interesting suggestions as to why artefact cards work, including how they can improve work-flow and immersion in projects.

But for me products like his and other neutral, democratic ideation tools are important in a much simpler way – because they energise the creative spaces between us and help us get the ‘Geography of Ideas’ right.

Nick Hammond