The way we usually brainstorm innovation is old-school.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, most brainstorms still follow the basic procedure outlined in Alex F. Osborn’s 1953 definitive and excellent tome Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem-Solving. In many ways, it’s remarkable that Osborn’s brainstorm approach dominated, unchallenged, as long as it did.
Disruption came, of course. Silicon Valley companies such as Google Ventures and IDEO began actively championing new ways of thinking about thinking in groups. So take some tips from the pros to create stronger and more agile brainstorming environments designed to drive bolder, more adaptive creative results.
Identify the right challenge
Before your brainstorm, communicate to your team the specific challenge you want to address. Also ahead of time, provide them with strategic insights. Try to pare down your challenge to a few short sentences and arm your team with this information as early as you can. Remember: The only thing worse than having too little to ideate around is having too much. Keep it brief and essential.
There are enough distractions in the workplace, and a brainstorm, especially a short one, will benefit from their absence. Leave the laptop, phone and other digital devices in your workspace or be prepared to check them at the door. Go analog to capture the ideas via whiteboards, sheets of paper or Post-it notes.
Give the group time to ruminate together and solo. Build in opportunities for your team to think before, and even during, the brainstorm via a structured breakout, if it makes sense. One problem with the “let’s get a big team together and see what sticks” mentality is that it produces a large amount of surface-level ideas. Rarely does it produce anything of substance that aligns with the goals or even addresses the problem. Instead, give team members ample amount of time to ideate on their own. They’re more apt to come back to the brainstorm with the kind of thought-through, detailed ideas you need to succeed.
Regardless of which brainstorm methodology you subscribe to, scrutinize and challenge it until you identify what works best for your team. It’s the only way you’re going to ferret out that great idea that changes everything.