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When all the current cost-cutting is over and business models begin to make sense again, one thing will differentiate winning companies from also-rans: their ability to innovate.
“Innovate or die” is not an idle threat. It’s the harsh reality of the modern, fast-forward economy.
So how to do brainstorming and what rules to follow for sparking good ideas?
1. Sharpen the focus
Start with a well-honed statement of the problem at hand. Edgy is better than fuzzy. Best topic statements focus outward on a specific customer need or service enhancement rather than inward on some organizational goal.
2. Write playful rules
3. Number your ideas
This rule seems counterintuitive. But lists create goals to motivate participants. One could say, ‘Let’s try to get to 100 ideas.’ Lists provide a reference point if you want to jump back & forth between ideas.
4. Build and jump
Most brainstorming sessions follow a power curve: They start out slowly, build to a crescendo, and then start to plateau. The best facilitators nurture the conversation in its early stages, step out of the way as the ideas start to flow, and then jump in again when energy starts to peter out.
Go for two things in a brainstorm: fluency and flexibility. Fluency is a very rapid flow of ideas, so there’s never more than a moment of silence. Flexibility is approaching the same idea from different viewpoints.”
5. Make the space remember
Good facilitators should also write ideas down on an accessible surface. One could hold their brainstorms in rooms wallpapered with whiteboards or butcher paper. Alternatively, one could also use easel-sized Post-it notes.
When the facilitator tries to pull together all the ideas after the session, she can stack up nice, tidy rectangular things instead of spreading butcher paper all the way down the hall.
6. Stretch your mental muscles
Brainstorming, like marathon running, should begin with warm-up exercises.
Brainstorming sessions can be occasions for show-and-tell. Participants bring examples of competitors’ products, objects that relate to the problem, or elegant solutions from other fields as springboards for ideas. Also, keep materials on hand — blocks, foam core, tubing — to build crude models of a concept.
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