Think tanks inspire innovation and research. A think tank can be as large as a cancer research organization or as small as a group of families who get together to form new ideas to propose to the local school board. Those who start up and run professional think tanks use a variety of methods to get the mental wheels of their members turning. Depending on the topic and the personalities of the members, certain methods will work better than others.
The Center for Creative Community writes about the logistics of group size, a fundamental aspect of a think tank which can make or break results. Smaller groups between five and 12 participants are thought to better encourage each participant to speak. This is under the assumption that, if chosen for a think tank, that person has a valuable perspective that must be introduced, questioned, challenged and added to by the other members. If your think tank must include more members, it is suggested that you break them into equal and smaller groups, then periodically return to a larger joined group to discuss the ideas generated.
The mood and setting of a think tank can be as important as the people you choose to participate. The Center for Creative Community believes that if you set it up as a casual meeting between friends and peers, participants are more likely to take risks with their words and ideas -- and this is where the truly innovative ideas are born. Before participants arrive, announce that the attire is informal. Make the room as comfortable as possible, providing adequate seating and refreshments if possible. Get rid of barriers such as tables and open the circle up for conversation. The mood can be set by the facilitator who should guide conversation without driving it. It is the facilitator’s job to make sure each participant feels that her opinion is valued. No idea is judged as bad or good, only different from the ones before it. Finally, the facilitator should announce and have members sign a petition promising confidentiality so that all participants are encouraged to speak freely.
A powerful think tank will have a facilitator and members who have done their homework. Homework for a think tank involves reviewing and discussing the ideas that were created before you regarding the topic in question. Concise and compelling papers, articles, videos and broadcasts on the topic at hand should be sent to think tank members before they gather. This information should get their wheels turning and prepare them to question, challenge and expand upon what already exists. By having members review old information before the meeting, you will inspire them to think of original ideas before arriving so that informed conversation is inevitable.
There should be one or more people taking minutes at your think tank meeting. Ideas must be gathered at the rate at which members are speaking them, and at a successful think thank, this can be quite fast. Once an idea is put out there, a facilitator may have to bring attention to it in order to ensure follow through. While members may become excited by each other’s ideas, moving on too quickly from a poignant idea could force it to dissolve into the conversation and be forgotten. As the facilitator, you can pause the conversation and ask members for concrete ways to bring a good idea to fruition. Record these things before the meeting is over. Follow up with these ideas and how they are being carried out with the appropriate people once the think tank has ended.