Roll the Cards – Disrupt Your Brainstorm

Roll the Cards - Trello board

You’re Stuck in Your Brain

The other day I explained to Trevor Owens, CEO of Lean Startup Machine, how my team is trying out different ways of brainstorming. His reaction to one particular method was a stronger “YES” signal than most of the product experiments we’ve been doing, so I agreed to blog about it.

I’m interested in disrupting our brains  – not just doing brainstorming, but actually getting out of our brains. You can’t think outside the box when the act of thinking, itself, is inside the box of your brain, with all of its conditioning, its long forged and re-strengthened web of neural patterns. So let’s add chaos to shake things up. Guided chaos.

Why guided? Because we’ve all got goals – hit a revenue target, end world hunger, whatever your weekend startup or decades-old organization has decided. For Hackerbilt, our goal is to make work fun. For my day job, we champion the little guy-the average consumer.

Roll the Cards Brainstorming

In true Hackerbilt form, this method – lets call it Roll the Cards Brainstorming – is both super simple and fun. Here’s what we did.

  1. Create a Trello board
  2. Add four topic lists: Organizational Concepts, Life Concepts, Technology, and Disrupters
  3. Add appropriate cards to each list
  4. Get your dungeons and dragons dice out (or online truly random number generator) and ROLL for one card in each list
  5. Combine these ingredients and force your team to come up with a solution that addresses all four topics

(Feel free to experiment on the details – four decks of index cards, each deck shuffled and dealt, would work just as well.)

About the Topics

Organizational Concepts - Roll the Cards

Organization Concepts are what’s important to your organization, startup, team, etc. Look to your organization’s mission statement and measurable goals. For example, we have “Safe Marketplace,” “Revenue,” “Impact,” “Customer Retention.”








Life Concepts - Roll the CardsLife Concepts are big-picture, high-level subjects that touch us as living human beings. We have things like “Food,” “Heat,” “Wanting to be right and others to be wrong,” “Climate Change.” Have fun, make up your own, just keep it big-picture and universal (or at least common to your society).







Technologies and Interfaces - Roll the CardsTechnology is self explanatory. Since our team focuses on technology innovation for digital products, we have added cards for things like “Bluetooth,” “Google Glass,” “Geolocation,” “Audio Speaker.” We even have “Wheel” as one. Go crazy!







Disrupters card - Roll the CardsFinally, Disrupters are my term for identifying aspects of the most brilliant, game-changing forces in invention. “Overcoming Geography / Powered transportation” – the wheel, the steam engine, the airplane lifted us from a plateau of “only this much is possible” to “what ISN’T possible now that this is available!” Another of our cards reads “Supplanting biology/Replacing damage” – think prosthetic limbs, artificial hips, Lasik surgery.

Not Possible? Already Happened!

When we first tried it, it was hard not to give into the immediate self-defeatism of “How can I possibly come up with a solution for those crazy disjointed concepts?!” One hand we were dealt combined the following: consumer advocate + bluetooth + supplanting biology/replacing damage. Total blank. After some banging of our brains against our skulls, I exclaimed “I bet if we google ‘bluetooth prosthetics’ we’d get something.” So I did, and we did. In 2008, Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Beill who’d lost both his legs above the knees started to walk again due to the help of prosthetic legs using Bluetooth technology that coordinated movement. The technology allows him to walk further without getting tired. Larry Shaughnessy from CNN covered it in his article “Double amputee walks again due to Bluetooth.” Goosebumps!

Double amputee walks with bluetooth

And so, with the smack upside the head that yes, indeed, what we thought was impossible was already possible – we went at it again, this time thinking up multiple solution concepts involving quantified life or solving the veterans claims benefits backlog fiasco.

Help our Mass Mind Grow Faster

I think there’s value in crowd-sourcing, data-cleansing, normalizing, and prioritizing of the topics, so let’s try it out. I set up a Concept Collector at the link below. Go ahead and add a couple concepts for each topic (I left off the Organizational Concepts because that’s “personal” to each organization) in the concept collector ( and we’ll start attacking the data-cleansing aspect.



Go Forth and Pwn!

It’s my hope that by sharing Roll the Cards Brainstorming, we’ll see you, your colleagues, and your friends be dealt some insane grouping of concepts that tap your passion and goals, and that you’ll ultimately invent something that changes the world for the better. Share the link:


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