Brainstorming the ‘A-Ha’ Moment (part 2)

Defining The Problem
Brainstorming starts with a problem, defined in the form of questions like, “How can we reduce our delivery time?” “What problem do our customers have that our competitors are solving?” “What phrase can we use to differentiate our services from competitors?” If the problem is too complex, it can be broken down into smaller chunks, each with it’s own set of questions.

Warm Up
The purpose of a warm up is to get people comfortable with a criticism-free environment. You can start with a simple problem such as “where should we take a guest from out of town,” “What gift should we buy my Mom for mother’s day,” or other question that everyone can relate to. Groups can also use word games or games of ‘opposites,’ where participants come up with a list of words and have to come up the opposite idea.

First Lists
Participants write their ideas on post-it notes or in a list. Then the moderator either collects the ideas or a master list is made which aggregates the ideas. People are asked to build on ideas. Sometimes the post-its or individual lists are passed to others in the group for ‘building’ upon. Where more details are needed, such as color, features or size, etc, the group might be divided into subgroups to focus on these details. Each group the brings their ideas back to the main group for further discussion and ‘distillation.’

The Vote
People then have a chance to individually evaluate ideas on the list, through a simple show of hands. Votes are recorded, helping prioritize and distill ideas.

Killer Phrases
Here are a few lines that discourage idea flow and should be avoided:

  • A great idea but…
  • Against company policy
  • All right in theory
  • Be practical
  • Costs too much
  • Don’t start anything yet
  • It needs more study
  • It’s not budgeted
  • It’s not good enough
  • It’s not part of your job
  • Let’s make a survey first
  • Let’s sit on it for a while
  • That’s not our position
  • The boss won’t go for it
  • The old timers won’t use it
  • Too hard to administer
  • We have been doing it this way for a long time and it works
  • Why hasn’t someone suggested it before if it’s a good idea?
  • Ahead of the times
  • Let’s discuss it
  • Let’s form a committee
  • We’ve never done it that way
  • Who else has tried it
  • Not politically possible

Reflection
Sometimes, The Eureka Idea comes out of brainstorming session. But not usually. Don’t worry. The real work in coming to an original or “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” (MAYA) idea is in the reflection phase. Think of the brainstorming session as a way to open the mind to new ways of thinking. But ideas sometimes take time to gel. In the day or two after a session, while you’re running, walking, taking a shower or other ‘reflective period,’ the ideas start to take shape. Participants need to take the time to go through the lists and consider other options. Your ‘fallback’ ideas are those you generated in the brainstorming session. But time works wonders. You can come back to another session to discuss these ideas, with greater discussion of the constraints and applications.