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Brainstorming Fun, New Programs

Exciting programs help members stay interested and motivated. The more engaged members are, the greater the likelihood they will remain members in the long term. How do you keep your fitness programming prizewinning? You take advantage of the brain trust—otherwise known as your staff.

In a brainstorming session, the premise is to come up with as many ideas as possible without editing them. The concept was developed by Alex Osborn in 1941. Osborn developed a list of four essential rules for an effective brainstorming session:

  1. Withhold any criticisms or judgments on ideas until an appropriate time.
  2. Allow free thinking. The crazier the idea, the better! It’s easier to tame a crazy idea than to crazy up a dull one.
  3. Generate lots of ideas. The more ideas you come up with, the greater the likelihood that one of them will be a true gem.
  4. Allow others to make suggestions on how ideas can be enhanced. If someone wants to expand on a concept, encourage it.

There is a law of thirds associated with Osborn’s brainstorming model:

  • The first third of all ideas produced will be the expected. These are generally ideas that people have heard of or acted on before.
  • The second third of a brainstorming session produces ideas that begin to stretch the boundaries. They still might be ideas people have heard before, but perhaps they are modified in a new way or take a different approach.
  • The last third is where all the magical ideas lie, waiting to be uncovered. At this point in a brainstorming session you will find truly creative and innovative ideas.

Brainstorming Secrets

The secret to brainstorming is to keep going—to push past the stage where people think they have run out of things to say. The first third of the ideas flow rapidly. People draw on their memories and experiences of the past. Let’s say you want to offer a new and intense athletic conditioning class on your schedule, and you ask your staff to come up with a catchy title. During the first third you will hear ideas like Total Body Workout, Full Body Blast or Athletic Conditioning for Athletes. These are names your staff has heard before. Let people get these out in the open and then keep digging.

At some point the ideas will stop coming or be slow to form. Your team may start to become frustrated and think they have run out of things to say. Keep probing. You are now going to uncover the second third of your ideas. Somewhat novel ideas will begin to surface. Although they won’t come quickly, they will come. The titles will start to be a bit more creative but will still be a version of what the team has already come up with; for example, FBW—Full Body Workout or Blast Conditioning—A Total Body Workout. While the new versions may be interesting, you still need to keep probing to come up with a unique and truly memorable title.

In the last third, you uncover the best ideas. Now, people have to use their creativity and imagination to squeeze out more suggestions. The ideas may seem crazy or somewhat humorous, but they will also be truly innovative. When staff members really use their inventiveness and imagination, completely different names will emerge, names like TBA—Total Body Annihilator, ACC—Athletic Conditioning Carnage or RIP Athlete Conditioning Program—Relentless, Intense, Powerful.

Most brainstorming sessions end when people stop talking—as they struggle to think of something new. If you are facilitating a session, it is tempting to switch to another subject just to ease the discomfort. Why not endure the silence and keep probing your group for more ideas? Use the power of “else,” as in questions like these:

  • How else might we go about solving this issue?
  • Who else might be involved?
  • What else haven’t we thought of?

To learn more strategies for successful brainstorming, see the full article “Mining for Program Ideas” in the online IDEA Library or in the May 2010 issue of IDEA Fitness Manager. If you do not receive this e-newsletter and would like to upgrade your membership, please contact [email protected].


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Donna Hutchinson

Donna Hutchinson owns On The Edge Fitness Educators. Based in North Vancouver, British Columbia, she is a fitness business coach and author of How-To Guide to Starting Your Own Personal Training Business. In 2007, she was nominated for the Women of Excellence Award and the Business Person of the Year Award. Find out more at www.edgefit.ca.

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