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potting shed

This group will brainstorm your business ideas for you - and they'll do it for free

All Potting Shed asks for in return is some snacks and an open mind.

NO MATTER HOW creative you are, you’re bound to be blinkered by groupthink at some point.

So says Michael Torrans, the organiser behind Potting Shed, a monthly get-together where volunteers brainstorm ideas for a company with a conundrum.

The idea originated in Queen’s University Belfast. Torrans used to work in the city and when he moved into his current role as a product designer at Dublin lighting firm Pleolight, he took the concept with him and it has now been running for just over a year.

“I knew it would flourish down here,” he tells Fora. “The minute I started it down here, people got it straight away and people got involved straight away.”

The system usually involves a firm approaching Potting Shed with a problem or product idea. They’ll organise a session with Torrans, who sends out an invite. Whoever shows up on the night spends two hours brainstorming before making a 20-minute presentation of the best ideas.

All the information – post-its, drawings and scribbles – is handed over to the firm to use or disregard as they see fit.

No money changes hands – all the host company has to do is provide snacks to keep the volunteers ticking over.

Around 30 people attend each event and they come “from all walks of life”, according to Torrans. Many of them work in a creative industry – artists, architects, painters and the like – but it’s not uncommon for an accountant to show up too.

“It’s very important to get really varied backgrounds and different sets of eyeballs in the room to try and throw out different ideas,” Torrans says.

“When you get people who are removed (from the creative industries), they’ll throw ideas that designers wouldn’t think of because they’re not blinkered by the design process. It just adds a real variety to the answers. Everyone’s useful in this kind of situation.”

IMG_2039 Potting Shed in Twitter's office Potting Shed / Michael Torrans Potting Shed / Michael Torrans / Michael Torrans

‘No consequences’

When asked why someone would give up their time to take part in a Potting Shed session, Torrans says it’s a good opportunity to press palms with people from different backgrounds and get the creative juices flowing.

There are a number of Potting Shed participants who studied a creative discipline in college but ended up pursing a more conventional career path.

“For people in that situation, they really enjoy getting out of the office, getting into an interesting location, sitting down with a couple of new faces and just brainstorming,” Torrans says.

“Brainstorming has no real consequences. The company just asks us to come in for two hours and throw out anything and just have fun with it.”

Some volunteers use the event as an opportunity to get “a good look behind the curtain of a company in Dublin and see how they run things, how they operate”.


Some firms use Potting Shed as an opportunity to road test a new product, Torrens adds.

“A lot of companies are aware that this is an opportunity to put their idea to 20-odd people who’ve never heard of it before and never seen it before.”

Potting Shed has worked with a number of high-profile organisations. It recently worked with Dublin Airport as part of its bid to position itself as a transfer hub.

“It’s the last stop before the US and they wanted to position it more in that sense and get more people using it as a transfer area,” Torrans says. “We were looking at how to make a transfer package for Dublin Airport more appealing and better in general.”

Participants came up with straight-laced concepts around the tech sector and history of Ireland, as well as more outlandish ideas like yoga rooms, swimming pools and virtual reality.

Potting Shed came up with “a lot of service design stuff for rewarding people for not going straight to their gate”.

As exciting as the ideas are, it may be some time before travellers can go for a dip in Dublin Airport before jetting off to the United States.

“We don’t take it to heart if things don’t come through,” Torrans says. “You could throw 100 ideas at the wall and stuff may not be feasible or may not be viable.”

That’s part of the reason why he has no intention “at the moment” to commercialise Potting Shed.

“I don’t have the need for it at the moment,” he says. “I have my own job. This is more of a book club.”

He explains that if the concept was monetised, “companies would expect a finished idea” and would be more defensive about their product which “kills creativity”.

“This is brainstorming. We’re going to throw as much shit at the wall as we can and see what sticks.”

Written by Conor McMahon and posted on

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