How To Brainstorm – Steps That Generate Results

Sometimes brainstorming seems like a useless waste of time. Because it is – unless you treat it like a process. Don’t squander resources and frustrate your team. Instead, learn how to brainstorm effectively and take full advantage of group knowledge and creativity.

Lay The Groundwork

If your idea of brainstorming is spontaneously locking a bunch of people in a room, you’re going about it all wrong. First you must identify problems or needs, at least according to professor emeritus at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Ralph Keeney.
Following Keeney’s approach, the issues must be clearly outlined and in detail. This process should first be done by each team member individually. The initial question is: what problem are you trying to solve?

Here are a few examples:

* There are no good devices to access the arterial supply of obese patients.
* Our customer service time to respond is too slow.
* Our office and lab facilities are not able to fill our growing needs
Consider encouraging team members to create multiple objectives, even if they seem way out of context. Each person should ask themselves: what, as a company, are we hoping to accomplish? This type of questioning might lead to unexplored territory such as how to improve customer satisfaction or verification processes.

Identify Solution Objectives

It’s not enough to just give a solution. Instead, flesh it out to the nth degree. Keeney gives this example which was undertaken by the design firm IDEO:

Problem/need: Cyclists want to drink coffee and ride

Solution: Spill proof coffee cup for cyclists

Objectives: help bikers, prevent spills, avoid burns, avoid distractions and accidents, keep coffee hot, reduce costs, save time

Let’s look at our earlier arterial device problem. Doctors need an intra-arterial device for obese patients who have difficult arterial access due to:

* Infection risk
* Incorrect placement
* Vessel damage
* Frequently lost access

A detailed objective list is the key as it will stimulate and challenge others during the group brainstorming session. It also helps prevent that one single objective takes center stage. Again, this step is done on an individual basis.

Get Together, Be Meticulous, Hear All Ideas

When you finally gather your team (go somewhere cool and fun if you can!), beware of anchors that pull the whole ship down. Anchors are objectives that take center stage and devour all the time spent brainstorming.

Also, make sure every team member participates and shares their responses. No answer is wrong and the seed of a great idea often comes from hearing another person’s insight.

Finally, make sure all objectives are addressed. Write down the objective list as well as proposed solutions. At the end of the meeting you have a working document to take to your R&D or administrative team.

Plan Ahead

Before you start the process described above, plan well in advance. Set a deadline for problem, solution, and objectives identification. Schedule the brainstorming meeting date and time. And make sure you invite representatives from multiple disciplines in your company. For example, assembly experts might have a lot to say about design that will affect true time to market.

You might consider identifying the problem to be addressed in a virtual manner first. For instance, everyone could submit a list of the problems or ideas then compile a master list. Next, decide, or even better, vote on which problems should graduate to the next phase of solution/objectives development.

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