Brainstorming was born in the 1950s and while all the other aspects of business have changed dramatically since then, the way we come up with new ideas hasn’t. Until now.
Intuitively, brainstorming seems to make sense as an approach to get new ideas on a tricky issue. Get some smart people in a room; tell them it’s time for some blue-sky, out-of-the-box thinking; and then wait for the money ideas to come rolling in.
But do you find that often the ideas of your brainstorming session don’t really meet the grade?
Do you feel that somehow you’ve not achieved the quality of outputs the people in the room had the potential to achieve?
Why traditional brainstorming fails
Typically, brainstorming sessions fail for two generic reasons. It’s a flawed process in itself – but more importantly, just because you put people in a room together doesn’t mean that they are in their own personal best place and time for thinking.
Ask yourself when you do your best thinking? Is it just before you fall asleep? In the shower? When walking the dog or out running? Very few people respond with the answer in a brainstorming session.
Here are some of the reasons why traditional brainstorming sessions are inefficient:
1. There are no dumb ideas so encourage wild and exaggerated thinking
There are plenty of dumb ideas. Everyone in a brainstorming session knows that many of the ideas that are created will be impractical, way beyond the scope of the issue, too risky, not aligned to the company values or business aims – and so on.
Wild and exaggerated ideas aren’t intentionally stupid ideas, they’re just totally impractical, pie-in-the-sky stuff – so they might as well be termed ‘dumb’.
2. Quantity counts at this stage, not quality
No it doesn’t. Quality is always important. Fewer ideas but with a better sense of quality will always be of more value than a large number of useless ideas.
3. Don’t criticise other people’s ideas
There’s limited time available in any creative thinking session, and if someone is being consistently way-beyond the realistic, then wouldn’t a little constructive guidance help them to potentially create the one idea that’s being looked for within the likely acceptable zone?
Is there any other aspect of business where we encourage people to be wrong? Not offering guidance is a clear failure of any process.
4. Build on other people’s ideas
Sometimes useful, but often it can start adding weight and credence to an idea that wouldn’t have made the grade if someone hadn’t started to build on it.
5. Every person and every idea has equal worth
No! Everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute something useful. How they use that time is up to them. Allowing people to wander too far into la-la land starts to waste their chance for meaningful contributions – and it can also start to lead other people’s thinking astray too.
6. Only one person talking at a time
When you’re trying to concentrate on some important thinking issue, do you find it useful to have someone blabbing? Especially when you are supposed to be paying attention to what they’re saying? Doubtful.
Your best ideas frequently come when you have moments of silence to consider the issue in your mind. This brainstorming rule ensures that there may only be one person talking at a time – but also that there’s always someone talking.
Becoming “The Idea Generator”
The Idea Generator is a process which encourages and enables individuals to think around a defined topic at the times and places where they do their best personal thinking. It also uses a structured approach to thinking that leads your thinking on a topic through a number of distinct areas.
But the key difference is that whether you are doing this exercise on your own, or if several members of your business are involved – the thinking will always be done initially at the individual level. No team thinking here.
Afterwards you will come together to synthesise and assess your ideas – but the actual creative thinking is done alone, because creative business thinking isn’t a team sport.
There are three different templates that can be downloaded and used, and each has a different purpose – but can be applied to any issue:
1. Islands of Opportunity
Helps you efficiently identify opportunities to an issue which is new or hasn’t been tackled before.
2. Divide and Conquer
Is intended to consider a difficult issue that has been addressed before but which is still unresolved and which needs fresh thinking.
3. Boundary Riding
Is specifically structured to identify short- to medium-term growth opportunities within, or near to, your current business areas.
You can download these 3 thinking templates free at TheIdeaGenerator.info
Templates guide you through the Idea Generator process
Once you’ve downloaded and printed out the relevant template, it’s then a pen-and-paper approach that you can use anywhere, anytime to perform your creative thinking. The templates will lead you through the process which is outlined here.
1. Develop your Killer Question
The first stage is to ensure you are absolutely sure about the topic and the question you want to address.
Too often people rush to find the answers before they’ve even finalised their correct question and the right answer to the wrong question usually isn’t of value to anyone.
If you are working alone on this thinking exercise, then you set up your own Killer Question. However, if you are setting this exercise up for a number of your team to work on, you’ll need to ensure that you inform the participants of the precise question they are supposed to be addressing.
While brainstorming encourages unbounded thinking, a great Killer Question defines a very clear box that you want yourself (and others if they are involved) to think into. This is a clear reversal from the brainstorming approach of thinking outside-of-the-box!
2. Know when you do your best thinking
You need to set clear chunks of time when you are going to be completing your thinking template. Ideally, you want blocks of 15 – 30 minutes for focused and undisturbed thinking time. These should be when you feel you do your best thinking.
For some, it’s early morning, and for others it’s later in the day. Commuting to work is often a good use of dead time – or alternatively, you could head down to the local coffee shop for a thinking-focused break.
You’ll know what your best thinking ritual looks like – so make it happen. To complete one of the templates effectively should take you around six to eight thinking sessions initially, but you’ll speed up as you become familiar with the process.
3. Templates break your thinking patterns
The templates are designed to prevent your brain from following its usual process when you do your thinking. They do this by guiding your thinking into new directions through the use of unusual tools and techniques that interrogate your issue in novel ways.
4. Assessment, development and execution
Each template concludes with an assessment mechanism where you review all your ideas and note the best ones to consider taking forward.
These ideas can be ranked in different ways and the most-preferred ones are then taken through another stage to develop them further.
Finally, some routes to execution are considered so that they become more-developed solutions rather than just ideas.
5. The template document as an idea repository
Many types of issue that the templates address are enduring in nature, in that the issue may well need to be re-considered at some point in the future. Any issue related to growth is a prime example of this.
The ideas that you identify to address your growth needs now, will still be relevant in the future and the ideas which weren’t taken forward this time for execution could well be ideal opportunities at some point in the future.
Having all your ideas captured on the template means the template acts as a valuable repository for all the thinking you’ve performed on this topic – which is useful for the future.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Chris Thomason. Chris is the author of The Idea Generator – 15 Clever Thinking Tools to Create Winning Ideas Quickly, published by Pearson and is also the MD of Sprint for Growth which provides innovative growth services for SMEs.
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