What is Ideologi?

Linus Pauling

Ideologi (pronounced ideology) is an improvisational group brainstorming experience that takes place every week in Brooklyn at The Bushwick Generator.

Every participant can offer any question to the group for consideration as the subject of their brainstorming session. Once a subject has been chosen, participants take turns around the circle suggesting possible answers. The brainstorming session ends with each participant offering a personal reflection on what they discovered in the dialogue, followed by lively conversation among fellow participants and curious observers.

The possibilities of subjects that can be explored in Ideologi are endless! Its only limitation is the collective imagination of the attendees.

The inspiration for Ideologi comes from a number of sources, but most notably: Lee Glickstein and Joy-Lily, founders of the San Francisco Brain Exchange, a non-profit brainstorming community in the 1980’s; Condorcet methods of social choice theory; and Socratic circles, a version of the Socratic Method. Ultimately, it has come from my lifelong desire to create and share great ideas with others, if only to help better understand ourselves and our possibilities.

To join us at The Well, or for assistance with hosting an Ideologi gathering of your own, go to https://www.meetup.com/ideologi/

The first phase of Ideologi is called Prologue.

All of the participants, including the initiator, arrange their seats in a circle facing one another. If the room or its furnishings cannot accommodate one circle for everyone, a second outer circle should be created for half of the participants. For that scenario, the initiator would be seated on the outer row but no one seated directly in front of them.

At the start of Ideologi, the initiator introduces themselves to the participants and thanks everyone for attending. They provide a brief overview of how Ideologi works and its various rules. They then tell the participants that initiator input is limited to facilitating the selection of a quest (the subject of the dialogue), clarification of insights (when needed), preventing cross-chatter, managing time for the group, and providing their final observation of the dialogue. Participants are advised to…

1. Keep ideas brief, don’t tell stories.

2. Give only one idea per turn.

3. Speak in the imperative (‘do this, try that’, instead of ‘have you considered…?’).

4. Keep things open by not criticizing or ‘yes butting’ anybody’s idea (including your own) before you speak.

5. Make your thinking as counterintuitive or as provocative as possible.

6. (Re)mix previous ideas freely and often.

In a clockwise order, starting from the left side of the initiator, participants either propose a one sentence question as a possible quest for Ideologi or pass their turn to the next participant. A “quest” (the question that will serve as the subject of the dialogue) must meet a simple set of criteria for approval by the initiator:

A quest cannot be resolved with a “yes” or “no” answer.

A quest cannot be resolved by searching for a knowable fact.

A quest cannot be resolved by conducting a popular vote.

Participants are free to modify another participant’s quest as their own, but only if it is a qualitatively different question. On a second round, each participant restates their proposed quest, followed by a show of hands for participants who want it as their quest. Each participant can vote for as many proposals as they wish during this round. The three questions with the highest score become part of a run-off election. Each of three restates their question again, followed by a show of hands for their their first and second choice of a quest for the dialogue. The question with the highest score between the two becomes the quest of the dialogue. If there is a tie, the Initiator will make the tie-breaking vote. The initiator will then give everyone a five or ten minute break, which will help them with collecting their thoughts for the next phase of Ideologi.

The second phase of Ideologi is called Dialogue.

In a clockwise order, each participant provides one insight to the quest of the dialogue. Participants are free to use another participant’s insight as their own, either by repeating it, rephrasing it, or adding onto it. By going around the circle(s) twice, each participant gets two turns to propose an insight to the group. The initiator shall intervene if any participant speaks for too long.

A third round of Dialogue can be added if the vast majority of the participants collectively request one and the time allotted allows for it.

At the end of the dialogue, the initiator will invite everyone to stand and stretch during a 5 to 10-minute break. Participants are free to chat with one another during this time.

The third phase of Ideologi is called Epilogue.

In a clockwise order, each participant says their first name and then tells the group what they thought was the most compelling insight they encountered in Ideologi and why. It can be one of the insights they heard in the dialogue or an epiphany they had after listening to the other participants.

After a brief pause to collect their thoughts, the initiator offers their observation of the dialogue, such as any meta-insights about the dialogue itself or how things evolved from prologue to epilogue. When the initiator is finished, they announce to the participants that they are now fellow “ideologists” and to join them in applause for their participation in Ideologi.

The initiator invites them to join Ideologi’s Meetup group and its Slack, where participants can post their insights from the meetup and continue a dialogue with fellow participants. There they can also include links to uploads of video recordings of Ideologi experiences (with permission from their participants). They are also encouraged to follow Ideologi on Twitter and post their insights there by including @ideologi to their messages. Finally, participants are asked to invite others that may want to participate or observe and return next week, ideally at the same time and place as before.


Video: Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From. 21 September 2010.

Article: Gregg Levoy, “Public Access Brainstorming”. 31 March 1988.

Book: David Bohm, Thought as a System. 1992.

This work by Michael Christopher Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0). All other rights reserved.




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Michael Christopher Johnson

Michael Christopher Johnson

Remember—all I'm offering you is my insight. Nothing more.

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