Forget Brainstorming?

This past month there was a Newsweek item called “Forget Brainstorming.” Earlier this summer A.C. Nielson came out with a report that indicated that companies that use outside facilitation for ideation increased profits of new products by 20 to 30%.

My answer to this article’s apparent deviation to this stance supported in these two narrow studies would be, “don’t forget that brainstorming as well as other methods of creating ideas are components of the much more robust process of creative problem solving. Creative problem solving is a collection of tools used within the Discovery Stage or the Front End of Innovation.

In the “Focused Innovation Technique” brainstorming is one useful tool and can be used in four separate stages of the over all process. Brainstorming helps to:

  • Get the old and top of mind ideas out on the table; “the competition just launched a “green” product maybe we should too”
  • Speak truth to power or surfacing challenges to the core problem being solved; “we know what the customer wants we should just figure out how to do it”
  • Getting a cross-functional team to listen to their different ideas; it takes 3000 ideas to generate one new product success
  • Exploring complex information sets from many different perspectives; most new product challenges require a broad set of unique specialties working together
  • Exploring complex multifaceted problems; all the easy problems have already been solved

Key to a successful brainstorming segment within your process is that the result is an “agreed-to set of ideas for further development”. Every professional facilitator knows that the agreed-to is almost always more difficult than the ideas part of the equation. Agreement is where collaboration, up close and personal – in your face collaboration, is critical.

Then, individuals excel at developmental thinking. Most people would agree that word-smithing is not a group task. Likewise, in the Focused Innovation Technique, the beginning, agreed-to idea is handed off to an individual or small team for development, rationalization and polish to be turned into an early stage concept. The raw concept goes back into group ideation for further exploration and most importantly the development of commitment. Ideas are not light bulbs going on and off. Ideas are ping pong balls that bounce from engineer, to marketer, to finance, to operations, always guided by an agreed-to strategy and core thought.

We call innovation an organizational bumble bee. It can’t fly, but it does. All of these moving parts, all of this complexity, often hundreds of steps and key people that must line up. One Focused Innovation Technique process at Black & Decker involved over 150 people. Why? Because we will all give an idea that we own a second shot, and ideas always need a second, third and even fourth shot. New ideas are not perfect and need hang time, whether in the organizational froth or in the mind of the lone inventor.

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