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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Insights for a Perfect Brainstorm

"Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and where appropriate profits!" - Edward de Bono

Brainstorming is a group creativity technique by which a group tries to find a solution for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members. A brainstorm session often is a good way to find possible solutions to solve an urgent problem, think of new products/services/brand names/business models, a new go-to-market-strategy, etc. Often the brainstorming is done in free format, using a set methodology, tools and/or with a facilitator. There are lots of ways to brainstorm, and lots of tools to help you, including brainstorming software programs, useful mobile apps and handy mind-mapping tools. However, in most cases brainstorming as a tool can be used much more effective....

"To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires a creative imagination and marks the real advances in science." - Albert Einstein

Over the years researchers and creativity experts have made modifications or proposed variations of brainstorming in an attempt to improve the productivity of brainstorming. The best brainstorming insights I recently came across have been developed by Dutch innovator Gijs van Wulfen, who's the founder of the FORTH Innovation Methodology. His brainstorming advice and views are as follows: 
Every one of us has experienced failed brainstorms. Because 300 ideas hung on a wall and nobody knew how to go on. Or one of your vice-presidents disapproved of every idea so after a short while everybody kept his mouth shut. Or because at the end of a long day at the office you could only recycle old ideas and there was nothing new under the sun. But do not get discouraged. The perfect brainstorm exists. I have experienced several in practice. And was in the position of facilitating some of them.

So, what finally gives that 'WOW feeling'? I’ve discovered that this simple question cannot be easily answered. I do not think there is one dominant success factor. It is much more the right interplay of many small factors. It is all in the details I experience. Perhaps the metaphor of a puzzle is most striking. There are many small pieces needed, and if you lose one, the puzzle is worthless. In my practice as facilitator I have found twenty-five pieces contributing to the perfect brainstorm, which I like to share with you.

Highly Relevant 
1. Define a relevant subject, which is a challenge for the organisation and the people you invite.
2. Create with the sponsor a concrete and s.m.a.r.t. brainstorm or innovation assignment.
3. Create momentum for the brainstorm. Something important must happen now!
Diverse Group of Participants 
4. Invite people for whom the assignment is personally relevant. 
5. Invite both people for content as for decision-making reasons.
6. Invite also a couple of outsiders as outside-the-box thinkers.
7. Get a good mix between men and women, young & old, etc.
8. Let the internal top problem-owner (vice-president) participate.
Special Setting
9. Look for a peaceful and special environment (special place, special music, special food, etc).
10. Create an (emotional) safe environment where you can be yourself.
11. Do not allow ringing and flashing iPhones and Blackberry’s.
12. Never, I really mean never, brainstorm at the office.
Effectively Structured Process
13. Take at least two days for an effective brainstorm for concrete new concepts.
14. Spend twice as much time on the convergence process as on the divergence process.
15. Plan and prepare an effective combination of idea generation techniques.
16. Be open to suggestions from the group to adapt the process. Do not always try to stick to the programme you have set.
17. Make sure it is enjoyable. Fun promotes good results.
18. Time box. Make sure everybody knows what the time limits are for the different assignments. And stick to the time.
19. Hire visualisers or cartoonist to visualise the results
20. Keep the pace going; otherwise it becomes long-winded and boring.
Facilitated by a Professional
21. Hire an (internal) expert facilitator, hardly noticeable, with light controls.
22. Gives the opposite energy to the group. If the group is too active: be calm. If the group is too calm: be more energetic.
23. Don’t lose sight of sub groups, constantly check how they progress.
Concrete Output
24. Make the output very concrete and clear to anybody. Also to those who did not participate.
25. Creating the new concepts with your own colleagues generates maximum internal support.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating of course. Try to deploy the 25 rules, and you will notice that the participants will share the WOW-feeling and support the outcome. So when you organise or lead a brainstorm, check out if you’ve complete the puzzle.

Do you need to make an extra effort to 'sell' the importance of Idea Management and brainstorming within your organisation? Than I'd advise you to read the article 'How to Communicate the Value of Idea Management' for some useful insights and tips.

"Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world!" - Joel Arthur Barker

Creative regards & success,

Patrick Driessen

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