This is part 5 in my series on brainstorming techniques
We’ve covered a lot of ground in helping your groups create a lot of ideas. But what do you do with them all? And how do you make sure that the ones you leave behind really are dud ideas? There seem to be two main camps here
- choose your favourite, based on gut feel
- evaluate all ideas according to some fairly simple criteria
Not strictly a method for evaluating or prioritising ideas, but an essential technique if you need to bring a sense of order to a post it style brainstorm.
- Make sure all ideas are listed individually on post it notes.
- The facilitator invites participants to cluster like ideas together. Anyone can move any idea. No-one has to give a reason why.
- Once the clusters have settled down, participants discuss and select headings for each cluster
- Make any last minute changes, and remove all duplicates.
That’s it. It doesn’t work for brainstorms which have produced ideas in lists (in which case you need to identify categories manually), but it is a really useful exercise before prioritising or selecting ideas. Okay, on with today’s topic.
A show of hands is a surefire way to kill off all the interesting ideas and introduce groupthink. In this technique, participants are given a small number of sticky dots and told to identify their favourite ideas. Ideas with the most ‘dot votes’ win. The method assumes that ideas are individually listed and displayed on a wall.
Note that this technique does not remove group think entirely, particularly as voters start falling in line with the emerging vote patterns (I’ll just stick my dots where everyone else has shall I).
Similar to multi-votes, with the difference that participants are given different coloured dots. Each colour represents a different score, with total scores added up for each idea at the end of the vote. Again the method does not do away with group think entirely, but it is still better than a show of hands.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Key strengths and weaknesses are listed for each idea (this would typically require a quick breakout session). Ideas with more strengths than weaknesses win.
A small number of evaluation criteria are selected and filled out for each idea. Typical criteria tend to include the likelihood of success, how well suited the business is to implementing the idea, and the potential return on investment. For brainstorming, a quick evaluation might rank each idea High, Medium or Low in each of the key criteria, selecting ideas with the highest total score.
Black Swan Evaluation
When evaluating ideas, our natural tendency is to revert back to the type of logical thinking we have been carefully trying to avoid in our brainstorming sessions. Participants go through a highly creative brainstorming process, being careful not to discard ‘out there ideas’, only to find that only the most conservative of ideas are selected. Evaluation criteria such as ‘most likely to succeed’, or ‘best aligned to our existing business’ seem to make sense but only seem to reinforce the feeling that all of our most creative ideas will be met with certain death.
This great idea (I added the lame pictures) is based on Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan theory. According to black swan theory, the world is full of surprises. Some of those surprises have impacts which are so massive, it pays to be prepared for them…even though they are inherently unpredictable. Following this line of thought, the best way of evaluating ideas is not based on whether we think they will work or not but on the potential impact if they did work, and the cost of experimentation. I really like this very simple approach. It gets us thinking about prototyping and experimenting, and actively choosing ideas based on ‘how cool would that be?’ instead of ‘can we do it?’.