In our last two blog posts we have discussed the important of brainstorming to find the best solutions. We have a few more pieces of quality information we wanted to share with you on the topic to encourage you in your brainstorming processes! Give it a go and let us know what happens!
‘There are many things that can block a person’s creativity on the job, but the two biggest barriers are fear and lack of passion.’
Unleash the creativity in your organization, Tina DeSalvo, HR Magazine, June 1999.
In addition to brainstorming, consider the following strategies for generating ideas:
- Moonlighting. Often we wake up at night, with ideas tumbling over themselves in our minds. Make note of them before they are lost. Keep a pencil and paper beside your bed. Record your inspirations – then go back to sleep.
- Solo brainstorming. If you have a tricky problem to solve, and need some fresh ideas to solve it, try solo brainstorming – carry a small notebook with you during the day and jot down in it any ideas you get while you are walking, dressing, driving, waiting, eating, shaving… It’s amazing when and where ideas come from. Evaluate the worth of your collection of ideas later.
- Reverse brainstorming. If you need to improve a product or technique, list everything currently wrong with it. Consider each fault in turn and brainstorm ways to overcome that particular fault.
- Visualising the solution. Imagine the ideal situation that will exist when your problem is solved and record this in the form of a couple of sentences. Focus now on the positive steps needed to bring about that situation by ignoring completely the negative aspects.
- Writing lifeline memos. If you have a problem, write it up as a short memo with all the facts and all the possible solutions you can think of. Route the memo to all people who might have an opinion or alternative idea to those you have listed. You’ll end up with a few ideas you hadn’t thought of – and maybe even the solution.
A solution for The Uncommon Man
Years ago, Crawford Greenwalt, when president of Du Pont in the United States, in a speech entitled ‘Key to Progress: The Uncommon Man’, said:
“The great problem, the great question, is to develop, within the framework of the group, the creative genius of the individual. It is a problem for management… for everyone. The stake is both the material one of preserving our most productive source of progress and the spiritual one of ensuring to each individual the human dignity which is his birthright.
I know of no problem so pressing, of no issue so vital. For unless we can guarantee the encouragement and fruitfulness of the uncommon man, the future will lose for all men its virtue, its brightness, and its promise.”
To which Charles Clark, author of ‘Brainstorming: How to create successful ideas’, responded:
“Brainstorming is one way we can discover the uncommon man and his ideas. It can help solve the great problems of life. It can be used to solve the vast problems of science, of government, of philosophy, of management.
Most of us use only a fraction of our brainpower. We can no longer afford that great waste. We must learn how to mobilise all our creative force to solve the fundamental problems of our world… Try brainstorming – and find out how to think up ideas that make a difference in your life and our world.”
Unlocking the ideas
What do you do during a brainstorming session when the flow of ideas begins to dry up. Here are two suggestions:
- Call for ‘a minute of silent incubation’. Here, ask for complete silence while the participants read down the list of ideas already gathered. The purpose is to cross-fertilise or spark off further ideas from those already generated. After a minute’s silence, you’ll usually find the flow of ideas will again pick up.
- Select a general idea stated earlier and ask participants to state variants of it. For example, the idea ‘Advertise’ can be expanded to ‘Advertise on buses, on sandwich boards, on balloons, on coffee mugs, skywriting’ and so on. The important point here is that there are often many additional ideas hidden within others.
Revisit the wildest idea
Towards the end of a brainstorming session, when the ideas have really dried up, find from the accumulated list of ideas the most foolish or wildest idea and have the group attempt to turn it into some useful ideas. Since the wildest idea is often funny, the session concludes with group members laughing and free-wheeling – and often the exercise bring out some excellent ideas that had been missed during the session.
In ‘Creative Thinking and Brainstorming’, Geoffrey Rawlinson lists several ‘wild ideas’ that turned into more feasible, even useable, ideas, including:
- ‘Throw nails in the road to stop traffic outside our shop’ – leading to the request for a bus stop, giving away nails, advertising on buses, and the installation of a window display on the first floor for upstairs passengers on the double-decker bus.
- ‘Give a trip on the Concorde as the reward’ for the best salesmen in the team – leading to rewards in the form of visits to the company’s American headquarters.
- ‘Kill-a-chicken day’ – leading to, for this chicken-based food company, a chicken calendar, 365 recipes for chicken and chicken left-overs, and date coding to show when their chickens were killed.
Tips for a brainstorming group
- Size of group: optimum twelve; minimum five or six.
- Use outsiders on a problem topic. The majority of the group will usually be those deeply involved in it, but intelligent outsiders (e.g. sales staff with production people) often add a creative dimension to the problem.
- Use a mix of sexes, preferably 50-50, since men and women have different viewpoints and ways of tackling problems.
- Use a mix of ages – the younger members being encouraged to put forward ideas and the older warned to suspend judgement.
In ‘Creative Thinking and Brainstorming’ (Gower, Aldershot, 1981), Geoffrey Rawlinson lists examples of the successes he has had by using brainstorming techniques with various organisations, e.g:
- A company searching for ways it could share management information with its sales and marketing staff identified 489 ways in which this could be done.
- A paint company used brainstorming to identify ways in which architects could be persuaded to specify their paint to customers. Just under 300 ideas were produced.
- A car accessory firm identified 437 ideas for new products. During the session, it was realised that a car boot is a much neglected area of the car – and worthy of custom-built accessories.
- A newspaper used brainstorming to identify ways of reducing costs and listed over 600, including the shutting down of two out of six printing presses. The production manager commented that he would not have dared to suggest that idea to unions – nut the brainstorming group had included some union officials, and the manager was able to profitably explore the idea further with them ‘as it had been suggested in the neutral atmosphere of a brainstorming session’.
- A brainstorming group, investigating the design team’s proposals for a new piece of electronic equipment, included only one or two members of the design team and produced no new ideas. Far from being disappointed, the head of the design team was delighted, for it showed that all possibilities had been thought of, and the design team had done a good job.
Evaluate an idea with reverse brainstorming
After you have decided on the best ideas for implementation, it is often a good strategy to consider using the process of ‘reverse brainstorming’. Here the question becomes: ‘In how many ways can this idea fail?’ By playing devil’s advocate, a brainstorming evaluative group can anticipate possible snags and prepare answers for any higher authority which must give final approval to the new idea.
From Jean Farinelli in ‘The Motivational Manager’ comes the following guidelines for managing more effective brainstorming sessions:
- Invite any employees that could bring a new perspective to the problem.
- Keep the group small so as to keep energy levels high.
- Hold the sessions in the morning as people tend to be tired by the end of the day.
- Distribute a briefing to all participants before the meeting so as to stimulate thought processes.
If you have been challenged to learn more about Brainstorming this week, we invite you to check out our training options. You may like to specifically focus on Creative Problem Solving, or maybe you are looking for more general training in Management and Business areas?