Brainstorming that Works

This is the final part in my 6 part series on Brainstorming techniques

Many countries have their own version of a joke in which two locals are asked for directions. After arguing about the best way to go, they finally decide “you just can’t get there from here”. And so it is with brainstorming. The basic principal starts out with the search for those elusive creative ideas. The ones that make you think “of course, now why didn’t I think of that”. Since we ARE unable to get there from here, we seek a little help. In this case, that help comes in the form of a brainstorm.

  1. Get a group of friendly, but differently thinking people together in a  room
  2. Give them something to think about, maybe a problem to solve or a challenge to make something better
  3. Find ways to manage the group dynamics. You’ll need to remove group think and other social blocks, and help everyone to come up with ideas in a fantastical free jam of innovation. You might ask them to ‘hold off on judgement’ or ‘go ahead and put the wild ideas out there’. Hopefully the group will start feeding off of each others ideas, building on them and taking them in new directions until you have an enormous list of novel ideas.
  4. Recognise the ideas with potential. Just don’t chuck away all that great creative thinking with a final round of groupthink as you try and choose the safest, least creative ideas to take forwards. Recognise potential, and start experimenting. I talked about this a bit in part 5 on idea selection, including the black swan approach to choosing ideas based on their potential impact and the ease with which you could start plaing with them before moving into solution building mode.

Sometimes this may still not be enough, and you may need help to get really creative. Over the next week I’ll be looking at different tools for disrupting our normal form of logical thinking, many of which can be used within a brainstorm. For now I thought I should end with a few tips on getting the most out of your brainstorms using the approach I’ve outlined so far.

Set the right problem

Before you get started it really is worthwhile exploring the problem you intend to solve, or the challenge you want to take on. It’s pretty tempting to jump in and start brainstorming. Don’t. Try using a TERMS star, or some other line of questioning to really understand what is is you want from your brainstorm.

Kill groupthink

All of the techniques around brainwriting and idea sharing are designed to do two things, (i) reduce groupthink, and (ii) stimulat creative thinking. If you’re good you can go on to avoid groupthink in your idea selection phase too, giving your group every chance of existing the brainstorm with some truly creative ideas.

Brainstorms don’t happen in a vacuum, they happen as part of a process. For brainstorms to be truly effective you’ll need to integrate them into an innovation process that takes ideas right the way into implementation. I’ll come back to this when I write about innovation pipelines later. If you can’t wait that long, this is a pretty good whitepaper on the innovation process by Imaginatik.

Idea Launchpad

A golden rule in brainstorming is to ‘suspend judgement’. We need this in order to encourage people to put forwards ALL their ideas. But why would we want to do this? It isn’t so we have a long list of silly ideas at the end of the meeting, after all a novel with idea with no value is still just a silly idea. What we’re after are the ideas we just can’t get to from here. Ideas we build on and adapt to help us get to the really great ideas. For this reason, I like to use the concept of an Ideas Launchpad.

  • Gather your group and outline the problem
  • Stick some large sheets of paper to the wall with the heading “ideas launchpad”, and create a session with the target of generating as many ‘launchpad’ ideas as possible
  • At the end of this session, run another session to take ideas form the launchpad and use them to generate new ideas. Encourage participants to edit, manipulate and adapt the launchpad idea until it gives them a starting point from where they can generate new ideas. If they can;t get there from here, maybe they can get there from some place else…

Get Help

There are a ton of great techniques to disrupt logical thinking and start thinking creatively, and deliberately. As I said, I’ll start writing up a few of these next week but for a preview of the sort of techniques I will be talking about you can read a book, or check out this list.

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