April 24, 2010

Growth and Productivity, Scaling Your Business 3 min read

How To Run A Successful Brainstorming Session

Brainstorming, if done right, can help generate great ideas for the problems that you're facing. Brainstorming, however, must be done so that idea generation is encouraged. As such, negativity and criticism must be prevented, otherwise people would start being discouraged and they wouldn't want to contribute to the idea generation process.

how to brainstorming idea innovation

For this scenario, we'll use the hypothetical example of coming up with a name for our website that sells widgets.

Step 1: Define What You Want To Have

Here you would state what you want to achieve, so you'd list the problem that you want ideas to be generated for. Following our example, this would be the naming of our website. For you, it might be the naming of a new product or service, or the solution of a problem that you have with backing up your data.

The thing to note here is not to define your problem scope too narrowly. For example, saying that you want to find ideas for "how to backup my data to my external hard drive every day" would be too narrow. Perhaps the solution would be something that bypasses your external hard drive completely? Perhaps you need to use an online backup service? Perhaps you can come up with a solution that does backups not every day, but instantaneously? So, the question you really should be asking is "how to backup my data in the most efficient way".

Step 2: What Are The Characteristics Or Properties

You'd want to properly state the characteristics and properties that your problem has. In our case, it'll be whatever widgets that the website sells, and any other unique characteristics. For example, assuming our hypothetical website has a unique directory, or an article section with helpful guides and tutorials, then these are the characteristics of our website.

If you want to give a name to your product, then you'll need to identify what your product is and does. For example, if your product is a new web hosting service that helps people with security, this may be a list that you'll have:

  • Secure web hosting
  • Shared web hosting
  • Easy to use
  • Fuss-free maintenance

Step 3: What Are The Desired Properties of the Idea

In our example, this would be the desired properties of our website's name. So let's say we want the name to suggest the following:

  • Fun
  • Cool
  • Business
  • Authoritative
  • Innovation

That would be the desired properties of our idea, and this gives us a boundary to work within.

Step 4: Idea Generation

This is where the actual idea generation occurs, and can be done with 1 or more people. Ideally there shouldn't be that many people (8 would be a good cap). Throw out any idea you have on to a whiteboard or drawing paper, and have a person act as a facilitator. Remember - criticism is not allowed at this stage. One of the facilitator's roles is to guide the idea generation process, and to invoke new thoughts if the train of thought seems to be stuck on a particular path.

Step 5: Idea Filtering

At this stage you should have a very long list of ideas. This is when you need to be critical and rate the ideas based on the list of desired characteristics that you came up with in Step 3. A simple scale from 1-5 can be used, where 1 is poor and 5 is great. This would allow you to remove the bulk of your ideas - these ideas aren't bad, but they're just not that relevant or applicable to your problem.

Finally, you should have a shortlist of ideas. This is when you and your team will decide on the one final idea that just "clicks". One great example of a fantastic idea is the name for Twitter. Twitter is essentially a social networking website, and the founders wanted something that conveys the conversations that occur on the site. Because they had a clear idea of what they wanted to represent, they could come up with the idea of birds and the sound they make (which was "twitter"). Short, simple, concise, brilliant.

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