The Art of Brainstorming
Everything From Reverse Brainstorming to the Medici Effect
Having problems coming up with the next big idea that will catapult your company ahead of the competition? Do you want to improve your services or perhaps even create a new service that will allow you to attain the economies of scope you have been looking for? Brainstorming might do the trick for you.
Brainstorming is a way for a group to come up with creative ideas regarding a specific problems in a spontaneous and often improvisational fashion. It is a way to generate high volumes of ideas, allowing the group to get rid of those that are less desirable and working with the more viable ones. It allows the participants in the group to loose their fear of failure as the objective of a brainstorming session is to come up with as many ideas as possible while initially disregarding the viability of each. Keep in mind that most great ideas come after many failures.
“The secret of fast progress is inefficiency, fast and furious and numerous failures.” Kevin Kelly
The best approach to conduct a brainstorming session is to work with a facilitator, whose responsibility is to prepare the question or series of questions that need to be resolved, as well as leading the group in a way that maximizes idea volume. Choosing the group members as well as the number of participants are an important decisions that the facilitator together with management must make.
Often times it is better to choose participants that are not experts in the field, as they are deemed to be more open minded. The number of participants is also important, keeping in mind that while small groups are more manageable, larger groups tend to produce more ideas. Certainly, a group larger than fifteen is not recommended.
Experienced facilitators often prepare prior to the beginning of the session by identifying goals and objectives. They also clearly and comprehensively describe each characteristic of the goals and targets to the group in order to create an environment where both facilitator and group members act as a highly functioning team. Individual members of the group are encouraged by the facilitator to begin to organize their thoughts and prepare for the session.
There are several techniques that can be used during a brainstorming session in order to garner the best results. Some of these are:
- SCAMPER Technique
- Hurson’s Productive Thinking Model
- Six Hats of Critical Thinking by de Bono
- Lego Serious Play
- Reverse Brainstorming
The SCAMPER technique offers a pragmatic process for developing new products and services. It is based on the notion that everything new is a modification of something that already exists. SCAMPER is an acronym for: Substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate, reverse.
The Hurson Production Thinking Model was developed by creativity theorist Tim Hurson, and detailed in his book “Think Better” creates a structured method for solving problems. It can be used by individuals or groups and consists of the six steps detailed in the chart to the left.
De Bono’s Six Thinking Hatssystem is an excellent way to generate parallel thinking. Typically the facilitator starts out with the white hat in order to gather all the necessary data and facts about the problem to be solved. From that point forward the facilitator invokes the different color hats in order to get the group thinking in the same direction simultaneously.
The Lego Serious Play system is a thinking, communication and problem solving technique that allows group members to contribute with their knowledge and opinions on a level playing field. It is based on the concept of “hand knowledge” in which it is believed that when building with your hands, 80% of the brain is activated versus only 13% when using verbal communication alone.
In a reverse brainstormingsession the facilitator asks questions that are opposite to the desired outcomes. For example if improved customer service is desired, the question asked would be; “What should be done in order for customers to be completely dissatisfied by customer service?” At this point answers are collected and reversed. The process can be continued until the desired outcomes are attained.
Some questions to ask during brainstorming sessions:
During any of the brainstorming sessions types described above, certain questions can be asked to help the group visualize and assist with new creative ideas. Some of these are:
- Imagine you could get a on time machine and travel 10, 20, 50 or a 100 years from today. How would this product (or service) look like then?
- How would you deal with this problem in a different country, continent, planet, universe or different dimension?
- How would you deal with this problem if you were of a different gender, age, race, intellect, or nationality?
- What would you do if you were someone else? Perhaps a parent, teacher, manager, partner, best friend or enemy.
- Supposing you were the president of the United States, what would you do? Or a member of congress, a judge, a famous or charismatic leader, a famous scientist such as Einstein, or famous CEO.
- Very simply ask the question “Why?”. Why do we need to better define our culture? Why do we need a new product in this category? Why do we need this service?
Utilization of a mindmap could also be helpful as it is a great tool for a system of idea generation which allows the user to create a hierarchical tree in a cluster format that branches out into major sub-topics. As these branches continue to create extensions to sub-topics new ideas are created. Once the branches reach their limits, the user can eliminate the less desirable ideas and work on the more viable ones.
Frans Johansson, the author of The Medici Effect, wrote about the “the intersection” or the place where ideas from different industries and cultures collide to create innovation. Basically, the Medici Effect is how ideas from what seem to be unrelated fields, topics, theories and notions intersect and help us to identifying parallel theme and goals offering us solutions to common problems. The basic tenet behind Johansson’s assertion is that when you bring together a diverse team comprising of experts in different fields with divergent perspectives and experience, you have the ability to create a greater and broader number of viable ideas.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” — General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U. S. Army