I really have to say something about this notion that brainstorming / idea generation / ideation can be made into an efficient process. I’ve read a couple of interesting pieces on this lately, this idea it can be made more efficient, so you only get “good” ideas. If only it were so…
I’ll grant you that sometimes the questions posed for an “idea campaign” are too generalized and therefore rake in a lot of useless ideas.
I’ll also grant you that converging on a few good ideas when you have thousands to wade through is a challenge.
I totally understand why an organization would be seeking a more efficient way to arrive at a nice small batch of really good ideas.
The bad news is, Idea Generation is Not Efficient.
And you don’t want it to be. Here’s why:
1.) Putting limits, breaks, guard rails, and tightly framing what kind of ideas you want leads to incremental ideas. It will get you a smaller list. And, the list you’ll get will be exactly what you asked for — ideas within a defined frame — nearly always incremental ideas. Breakthrough ideas are often the best solutions to a particular challenges. Your tight frame will almost guarantee you Won’t Get Them. Academic research backs this assertion up — if you lead folks down a mental garden path, they will walk/think your way.
2. Research shows that quantity of ideas leads to quality ideas. Osborn said it first, and many academics have studied and verified this. Even if you have a very focused idea generation question or “platform” the mind tends to progress through three stages: a.) first thoughts are usually obvious, mediocre ideas that have already been thought of, b.) the second stage gets you slightly better ideas that are starting to be interesting but are still mostly incremental, and c.) finally! truly different innovative out-of-frame or breakthrough ideas. It takes time (not a one day thing), effort, and a lot thinking and dreaming to get to that third stage. In my view, there is no way around this. I’ve heard people try to jump to this third stage by asking only for out-of-the-box or “anti-conventional” ideas. Good luck. The brain, usually, can’t jump straight to third base, it needs to be “scaffolded” to get there. There is dangerous shock treatment (not the electrical kind) which might short circuit the process — more on that below.
3. Divergence and Convergence at the same time is brain inefficient. Imagination and analysis aren’t the same headset. If you frame what you want precisely and explain to your resource group you are only looking for ideas that fit, here’s what happens. Your resource group will be editing their thoughts, and throwing away ideas or avoiding “off topic” paths of thinking. Or, worse yet, some will hit the mental wall immediately and not be able to think of one thing. It’s hard to be truly divergent in your thinking when you are constantly editing your thinking. This is stepping on the brakes and the gas at the same time. Part of the value of allowing all ideas is it gets people into a divergent flow, and you simply have to accept the early stage thinking. Some of those thrown away ideas and mental paths might be gems — but you’ll never know will you? That’s corporate IP thrown in the toilet, money flushed down the drain, for the sake of efficiency.
So what’s the solution? It’s not one thing. But here are a few ideas:
* Better, more provocative, idea generation questions — that walk the line between being too constrictive and too open-ended. It’s a fine art doing this — hire an experienced facilitator.
* You can allow for a great deal of open-ended divergence within a small group — to create those better idea generation questions. Then, use a slightly more restrictive, but still provocative question for the broader group.
* A good Idea Management System is also helpful for post idea generation idea sorting, ranking, and filtering — use one. Consider also forming a convergence team that starts sorting concurrent to the real time/virtual session.
* Surprising and strategic stimuli for idea generation that shock the mind to a faster path to that third stage. This is, possibly, the only magic bullet for efficiency. Finding the right stimulus (that allows for unique conceptual or trend-based mash-ups) is a process in and of itself, and a time consuming one. And, it works best with experienced idea generators, people who practice often. Newbies or once-a-year-ideators will be surprised too, but won’t be able to do anything with it.
The solutions I suggest will be more efficient than an idea campaign/suggestion box free-for-all, but you’ll still get lots of ideas.
And that’s exactly what you want.