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Hits, Clusters, and Highlights

  • Use when selecting most promising ideas to focus on after Brainstorming.

  • This is a tool for Convergence.

  • Prerequisite for this tool is a list of ideas to choose from.

What and Why?

After a brainstorming session, the tool "Hits, Clusters, and Highlights" is an effective method for converging on ideas and identifying key themes or insights. It involves three steps to streamline and extract the most valuable concepts.

  1. The tool encourages participants to identify "hits" or ideas that stand out as particularly interesting or innovative. These are the ideas that have the potential to make a significant impact on solving the problem at hand.

  2. The participants group these hits into clusters based on their similarities or connections. By clustering related ideas, patterns and common themes start to emerge.

  3. The tool highlights the most significant or promising clusters. This involves distilling the essence of each cluster. The highlights represent the key takeaways that will guide the next steps.

  4. By using the hits, clusters, and highlights tool, brainstorming sessions become more structured and focused. It helps teams converge on the most relevant ideas, ensures that all voices are heard, and enables efficient decision-making based on the identified themes and insights.

Use this tool if you want to:

  • Efficiently identify and select the most promising and innovative ideas.

  • Explore specific themes or topics in greater depth and generate comprehensive solutions.

  • Recognize patterns and trends within the generated ideas, gaining insights into emerging trends or potential areas of focus.

  • Foster effective collaboration and constructive discussions by providing a common language and framework.

  • Streamline idea development by prioritizing and refining concepts with the highest potential.

Facilitation Elements

A. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation (~60 minutes)

2 mins

NOTE: This tool is used after a tool like Brainstorming has been used to generate multiple ideas.

  1. Introduce the tool Hits, Clusters and Highlights. Explain that we shall be using this tool to make decisions about which ideas from the idea pool are most promising and worth pursuing for now.

  2. Tell the group that we shall be converging as a three step process.

    1. Step 1: We will identify those ideas that are most interesting, innovative, intriguing, exciting, and most likely to have an impact on our desired outcome.

    2. Step 2: We shall identify emergent themes by clustering ideas that are similar or connected.

    3. Step 3: We shall synthesize the emergent idea themes into a solution statement.

  3. Remind the group of the initial HMW challenge that they were working on when they generated the ideas which are now under consideration. This will refocus their attention on the purpose of this activity.

  4. Provide each participant with 5 colored dots.

10 mins

(Convergence) Hits

  1. Instruct the participants to review the ideas on the flip charts and to use their dots to indicate which post-its are most exciting because they are likely to create impact/ are innovative/ are interesting/ have potential.

  2. Individuals work alone to review all the post-its on the flip charts.

  3. Remind participants that any post-it with a dot on it will remain in play.

  4. They may add their dot to a post-it that already has a dot on it.

  5. Encourage them to divide and conquer if there are a large number of original ideas.

15 mins

(Convergence) Clusters

  1. When all the dots have been used. Invite the group to move all post-it with a dot on them to a fresh flipchart sheet.

  2. Instruct the group to review all the hits (ideas with colored dots) and to start to cluster them so that ideas that are connected in some way are grouped together.

  3. Encourage the group to limit a cluster of ideas to no more than 6-8 post-its in a cluster. (Identical post-its can be reduced to a single post-it).

  4. If there is debate over which cluster a post-it belongs in - invite the group to duplicate the post-it and to add it to both clusters.

  5. Encourage the group to have conversations about where ideas belong. (This is important for consensus building).

  6. Explain that if a hit doesn’t belong in any cluster - it is okay to have it as a stand alone post-it..

15 mins

(Convergence) Highlights

  1. Explain to the group that now it is time to create a cluster heading for each cluster that they have created. This involves distilling the essence of each cluster.

  2. The statement starter for the cluster heading is: “What we see ourselves doing is….” (WWSODI)

  3. The completed cluster heading will represent a strategy that could be applied to address the challenge that the group has been working on.

8 mins

(Synthesis) Next steps

  1. Once all the cluster headings have been created, invite the group to consider all the clusters and to identify those that hold the greatest promise. Within each promising cluster identify 2 or 3 key ideas that best represent how that cluster heading might be put into action.

  2. These clusters and the key ideas within them, can be further synthesized into an action plan.

4 mins

Debrief the activity. Invite the group to share what they experienced as a result of using this tool.

  • What did you observe or experience as a result of using this tool?

  • What insights did you have?

  • Can you see yourself using this tool? How?

B. How Groups Are Configured

  • This activity works well with groups of 20 or fewer participants.

C. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed

  • Ensure that the original Idea post-its are spread out providing adequate access for participants to review the post-its with ease.

  • Flip chart markers/ Sharpies for creating cluster headings.

  • Colored dot stickers (¼ “ preferred).

  • Large post-its (optional for creating cluster headings).

  • Flip charts on stands or paper roll on walls - to create space for relocating post-its and creating clusters.

Tips and Watchouts

  • Stay focused on the objective: While brainstorming can lead to a plethora of ideas, remember to stay focused on the original objective. Ensure that the clusters and highlights selected align with the challenge that the group is working on.

  • Validate and refine: Once clusters and highlights are identified, take the time to validate them against the original ideas and objectives. Refine and iterate as necessary to ensure accuracy and relevance.

  • Avoid rushing: Take sufficient time to go through each step of the process thoroughly. Rushing can lead to overlooking valuable ideas or making hasty decisions.

Riffs and Variations

Instead of clustering ideas based on the similarity and connections - consider sorting the ideas with hits into a matrix with four quadrants.

For example:

Create a matrix using Impact and Feasibility as its dimensions. Ideas could be sorted into one of four quadrants:

  • Low Impact - Low Feasibility (Also known as the “Why bother?” quadrant)

  • Low Impact - High Feasibility (Easy to implement but not much bang for the buck)

  • High Impact - Low Feasibility (Ideas that will take some effort but might be worth it)

  • High Impact - High Feasibility (WOW ideas!)


Hits, Clusters and Highlights was originally used as a tool for convergence as part of the Creative Problem-solving process.


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