Most brainstorming doesn’t work.
The literature bashing brainstorming is extensive. Sessions often fail, and there are many reasons. Ideas are still needed to fill pipelines! I’m going to focus on one problem with brainstorming in this post: lack of preparation.
The Boy Scouts have it right. Be Prepared.
There is not enough mental preparation done with participants before brainstorming/idea generation sessions. Nor is there enough attention paid to planning and facilitating the exercises and stimulus in the session itself. Start thinking of idea generation as a project that takes a few weeks, not a one day session.
Use Diverse Springboards to Scaffold Thinking.
Fresh combinations of concepts are what creates breakthrough ideas. This is the essence of innovation. To get there you’ve got to put a lot of diverse data points, springboards, in front of participants. Springboards should be provided to participants in a constant stream, before, and during, the session. These are the dots to connect. Interesting conceptual dots, related to your challenge, and weirdly, un-related to the challenge are “Scaffolding.”
“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”
Take a hint from Dr. Seuss. People need to think more, more often, and over a longer period of time. Plan this! Plan for participants to think alone, together, out loud, and quietly. Plan visual elements, written and kinesthetic exercises. Have them experience the emotion behind the challenge. If this is done, the brain will make fresh combinations and innovative ideas emerge.
Seven Ways to Better Prepare for Idea Generation:
- Assign at least three hours of homework over a few weeks. Have participants do research, and virtual ideation, alone.
- Send the research ahead! Give them time to read, absorb, and jot down ideas, alone.
- Get smart outsiders involved. Expand the thinking team. Broaden the range of knowledge in the project.
- Get the platform question right. Unfocused questions mean useless ideas. Overly focused questions means narrow thinking.
- Plan a live session that sparkles all day long. It’s got to be dynamic, full of variety, unique stimulus, scaffolding, and fun.
- Balance the day plan with introvert friendly activities. These sessions need quiet and reflection in addition to all the shouting.
- Get a world class facilitator. Somebody who can help you do the other six items on this list.
Better session plans and facilitation require a person trained in those skills. The exercises you conduct with participants, before and after the session, need to stretch thinking and bring in outside concepts and trends. This is not trivial to plan, and it won’t be done well without deep background in concept blending tools and techniques. If you don’t have these skills in-house, hire me to do the session, and/or to train your people.