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Synopsis

The ability to innovate and adapt has transcended from a nice-to-have competitive advantage to a fundamental survival skill for any business that wants sustained relevance. How can you accelerate the cerebral engines that power those "Aha!" moments? And what sets a good idea apart from just any average idea? Whether it's as a collaborative effort with other team members, or a solo endeavor at your desk, or thinking on-the-spot during a case interview, or even leading a workshop, a trusty suite of Brainstorming Techniques is a must-have to upkeep the mind palace.

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28 questions and answers
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The quality of an idea from a brainstorming session can be evaluated through various methods. One way is to assess its feasibility, i.e., whether it can be practically implemented or not. Another way is to evaluate its potential impact on the business or project. The idea's uniqueness and creativity can also be a measure of its quality. Additionally, the idea can be tested through a pilot project or a small-scale implementation to gauge its effectiveness.

A business can balance the need for innovation with the need for stability by creating a culture that encourages and rewards innovation while also maintaining a strong focus on core business operations. This can be achieved by setting clear goals and expectations, providing resources and support for innovative ideas, and implementing a robust risk management strategy to ensure stability. It's also important to foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement, and to be open to change and adaptability.

To keep the mind palace updated in a rapidly changing business environment, it's crucial to continuously learn and adapt. This can be achieved by staying informed about industry trends, attending relevant workshops and seminars, collaborating with team members for fresh perspectives, and regularly challenging oneself with new projects and tasks. It's also beneficial to practice critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as these can help in generating innovative ideas and solutions.

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Follow along as we divulge the best practices for fruitful brainstorming sessions, tried-and-tested brainstorming techniques such as brainwriting, Six Thinking Hats, lightning demo, and reverse brainstorming, and how to organize and evaluate which ideas are ultimately worth pursuing. By the end of this, you'd be well on your way to better ideas with less time. But just keep in mind that every brainstorming session has its unique goals, timeline, resources, and manpower, so do what makes the most sense for your own scenario. You can download our collection of Brainstorming Techniques to see more and customize.

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25 questions and answers
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Some resources for learning more about brainstorming techniques include books, online courses, and workshops. You can also find a wealth of information on websites dedicated to creativity and innovation. Additionally, many organizations offer training sessions on brainstorming techniques. It's also beneficial to learn from experienced professionals in your field who can share their insights and techniques.

Brainstorming techniques can be used in problem-solving by providing a platform for generating multiple ideas and solutions. Techniques such as brainwriting, Six Thinking Hats, lightning demo, and reverse brainstorming can be used. Each technique has its unique approach and can be chosen based on the problem at hand, resources, and timeline. It's important to organize and evaluate the ideas generated to identify which are worth pursuing.

Some examples of successful brainstorming sessions include those that utilize techniques such as brainwriting, Six Thinking Hats, lightning demo, and reverse brainstorming. Each session is unique and depends on its specific goals, timeline, resources, and manpower. It's important to organize and evaluate which ideas are worth pursuing.

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Best practices

Divergent vs. convergent thinking

As two-time Nobel Prize winner and science pioneer Linus Pauling said, "The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas." Why is that so? Since when is quantity more important than quality? Broadly speaking, the act of ideation and solution seeking can be divided into two phases: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

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25 questions and answers
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One can cultivate the habit of regular brainstorming by setting aside dedicated time for brainstorming sessions, encouraging an open and non-judgmental environment, and promoting divergent thinking. It's also beneficial to keep a record of all ideas, no matter how insignificant they may seem at the time. Regular practice and persistence are key to making brainstorming a habit.

There are several ways to manage the flow of ideas during a brainstorming session. First, set clear guidelines for the session, including a time limit and the expectation that all ideas are welcome. Second, use a facilitator to guide the discussion and ensure everyone has a chance to contribute. Third, use visual aids like whiteboards or sticky notes to capture and organize ideas. Fourth, encourage participants to build on each other's ideas. Finally, after the session, review and categorize the ideas, and decide on next steps.

Brainstorming contributes to innovation in a business by encouraging divergent thinking, which is the process of generating many unique ideas and then converging on the most promising ones. This process allows for a wide range of ideas to be explored, some of which may lead to innovative solutions that would not have been considered otherwise.

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Divergent thinking is also known as the generative or flaring phase. At this point, let your imagination flow, anything goes. This is when quantity matters more than quality. Once enough ideas have been collected, we then transition into convergent thinking, also known as the selective or focusing phase. This is when hard cold logic and critical thinking reign supreme. Use this occasion to narrow down the collection of ideas into only the practical few. In fact, this interplay between divergent and convergent thinking has taken up a critical role in product discovery, with an emphasis on rapid iterations.

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Some real-world examples of successful application of divergent and convergent thinking include brainstorming sessions in business strategy development, where divergent thinking is used to generate a wide range of ideas and convergent thinking is used to narrow down these ideas to the most practical and beneficial ones. Another example is in the field of product discovery, where divergent thinking is used to come up with various product ideas and convergent thinking is used to select the most viable product ideas for development.

Divergent and convergent thinking contribute to innovation in a business by fostering creativity and critical analysis. Divergent thinking, or the generative phase, allows for the free flow of ideas without judgement, promoting creativity and the generation of numerous potential solutions. Convergent thinking, or the selective phase, then applies critical analysis to these ideas, narrowing them down to the most practical and effective solutions. This interplay between divergent and convergent thinking allows for rapid iterations in product discovery, leading to innovative outcomes.

Divergent and convergent thinking are particularly useful in industries or fields that require creative problem-solving and innovation. These include, but are not limited to, product development, marketing, business strategy, education, and technology. In product development, for instance, divergent thinking can be used to generate a wide range of ideas for new products, while convergent thinking can be used to narrow these ideas down to the most practical and marketable options. Similarly, in marketing, divergent thinking can be used to brainstorm creative campaign ideas, while convergent thinking can be used to select the most effective strategies based on market research.

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Session agenda

Making an agenda for a brainstorming session is like charting a map for an unexplored territory of ideas. If your team has the resources to do so, it's never a bad idea to designate a meeting facilitator for the task. The agenda should be succinct but flexible, basically providing a structured pathway while allowing reasonable detours to explore unexpected bursts of creativity. Make sure that the agenda is circulated to participants well in advance so they can be mentally prepared.

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Speaking of mental preparation, needless to say, we've all heard about brainstorming do's and dont's such as "don't be judgmental", "be respectful and inclusive", etc. All in all, a safe and positive environment is the way to go. But why? What if employees come up with better ideas under pressure and sadistic discomfort? Multiple scientific research and studies have provided empirical support to the Broaden-and-Build theory, which demonstrates that positive emotions and moods can facilitate creative thinking and problem-solving by enhancing cognitive flexibility and promoting open-mindedness. In one of the experiments, participants performed much better in creative "out of the box" thinking after they were primed by feel-good gestures as simple as watching a few minutes of comedy or getting a small bag of candy.

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Avoid groupthink

We mentioned the power of number when it comes to brainstorming. While that is true, one common pitfall to avoid is groupthink. Groupthink is a phenomenon where the desire for harmony and conformity within a group leads to subpar ideas and outcomes. When too many team members are brainstorming out loud all at the same time, our human instinct to want to be loved takes over. We then end up nodding, smiling, and passively agreeing with whatever ideas our teammates just voiced, all the while subconsciously suppressing our own ideas.

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That is why it's often recommended to dedicate a time during the brainstorming session for participants to silently think on their own first without influence from others, and then come together to share their ideas. Or in Amazon's case, its concept of "Two-Pizza Teams" is the idea that teams should be small enough to be fed with two pizzas. Small teams ensure more focused and productive brainstorming sessions, as each member has the opportunity to voice their ideas.

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Brainstorming techniques

Pixar's Braintrust, Spotify's squad model, Apple's brainstorming camps, Microsoft's ThinkWeek… The list goes on and on showing the level of time, budget, and resources that even the most competitive companies continue to dedicate to the act of brainstorming. Without getting such costly endeavors involved, let's go over some brainstorming techniques and frameworks that you and your team can easily and realistically incorporate into your next powwow.

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6-3-5 Brainwriting

The essence of the method lies in its cyclical and collaborative nature. Six participants are tasked to write down three ideas within a span of five minutes. After the initial five-minute ideation phase, each participant silently passes their sheet to the person on their right.

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This person then builds upon the ideas and adds new perspectives and dimensions. The cycle continues until each participant receives their original sheet back, now embellished with a slew of fresh takes from the rest of the team.

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Six Thinking Hats

The Six Thinking Hats is a framework that introduces a structured parallel thinking that guides participants through different facets of an idea. Each hat symbolizes a distinct type of thinking. Through this journey, the Six Thinking Hats makes sure that the brainstorming session is not a chaotic storm of ideas but is rather a structured exploration through varied cognitive domains. Here's how:

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  • The process starts with the "Blue Hat," which sets the stage for the brainstorming session, and defines its objectives and the sequence of thinking that will ensue.
  • Subsequently, the group dons the "White Hat," when they get to navigate through a realm of facts, data, and information. This ensures that the discussion is grounded in reality and is informed by relevant and accurate data.
  • The journey then meanders through the emotional and intuitive terrains of the "Red Hat," where participants express feelings, intuitions, and gut reactions without justification. This gives a glimpse of the emotional responses towards the issue at hand.
  • The "Green Hat" then sprouts seeds of creativity and novel ideas. This is a space where participants can explore alternatives and new concepts, free from the constraints of critical judgment.
  • As a natural follow up to the freeflow of ideas, "Yellow Hat" continues the discussion in optimism. This is the chance to explore the positive aspects, benefits, and potential upsides to the proposed ideas.
  • In contrast to the "Yellow Hat", the "Black Hat" then casts a shadow of caution and critical judgment, where potential pitfalls, risks, and negative aspects are explored. This instills a much needed reality check in the brainstorming process.
  • The session can then culminate with a return to the "Red Hat" for a quick check in to see how everyone is feeling, then concludes with the "Blue Hat" to consolidate solutions and plan for the next steps.
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IBM has utilized the Six Thinking Hats in their meetings to manage the direction and flow of discussions, ensuring that their teams explore various aspects of the issues at hand. Similarly, Siemens and Boeing are known to have employed the method to foster creativity and collaborative problem-solving within their teams.

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Lightning demo

"Good artists copy." That is a good mantra to live by for teams that wants to improve upon existing solutions in the market. Compared to all other brainstorming techniques, lightning demo focuses heavily on visuals. In a rapid-fire lightning demo session, participants showcase existing solutions or ideas from other companies that inspire them. These companies can be direct competitors, or they may simply have that one offering or capability that can be reappropriated across industries.

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Let's say, hypothetically, Adobe is in the process to update its creative software tools. Its product team might utilize lightning demos to showcase existing solutions in the market: Perhaps in trying to improve Adobe XD, the software for web and mobile app designs, the team could look into Figma. Or as we know, simply acquire the company, now that's an idea too!

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But remember, simply copying from sources of inspiration isn't enough. When presenting their findings, participants should clearly indicate the areas worth replicating and the areas worth avoiding. Critical thinking and evaluation in this case really helps avoid making the same costly mistakes that other companies made.

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Reverse Brainstorming

Reverse Brainstorming, or negative brainstorming, flips the script by focusing on how to create or exacerbate the problem. This seemingly counterintuitive approach often unearths solutions by exploring the problem space from a different angle. By understanding the ways a problem can be intensified, participants often stumble upon unique insights and end up with solutions that might have otherwise remained obscure.

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To improve nutritional content and public perception of menu items, McDonald's culinary and marketing teams might use reverse brainstorming to identify criticisms and challenges related to health and develop menu items that are both appealing and nutritious. Once the issues are laid bare, the team developed plant-based or lower-calorie options, introduced eco-friendly packaging. The fast food giant even redesigned all of its stores to incorporate more modern and muted palette, ditching the interior aesthetics commonly associated with fast food franchises and instead exhibiting a visual nod to establishments that would serve grilled instead of fried chicken.

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Idea evaluation

Dot-voting

Now that we've fulfilled the tasks under the generative phase of brainstorming, it's time to narrow down and hone in on the ideas that are the most promising. This elimination process could sometimes be as simple as a vote of popularity, which is commonly done by processes like dot-voting. As the name itself suggests, each dot serves as a voice, or a vote that democratically elevates ideas that resonate with the collective intellect and intention of the group. As a result, the chosen ideas are not merely the product of hierarchical decision-making but are rather born out of collective consensus and ownership.

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Action priority matrix

Realistically, even after narrowing down, there are still multiple ideas that are equally appealing. In this case, consider using an action priority matrix, which organizes ideas by effort and impact. By this logic, place each idea into its appropriate quadrant and relative locations.

  • Ideas or tasks that require low effort and generate low impact are fill-in jobs that can be tended to when there's downtime and certainly aren't the biggest priorities.
  • Ideas that require a lot of effort to execute but would only yield little impact are thankless tasks. Regardless of how "cool" the idea might sound, reality says not to pursue it.
  • Ideas that require a lot of effort to execute but would also create big upsides are considered major projects. These are definitely a priority, but they do require more complex planning.
  • Last but not least is the low-hanging fruit that the team should tackle first: quick wins that not only demand relatively low effort but also generate the biggest impact.
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If your team prefers a more quantitative approach, however, consider an idea evaluation form with weighted criteria. In some cases, all criteria are equally important. But realistically, some are usually valued more than others. By multiplying each idea's base score by weighted percentages, the results provide a clear, incontrovertible ranking of idea priorities.

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Conclusion

By intertwining structured methodologies with the unbridled creativity of the participants, organizations can harness the collective intellectual prowess of their teams, thereby crafting solutions that are not only innovative but also deeply rooted in collective wisdom and diverse perspectives. The Brainstorming Techniques we mentioned can catalyze organizations towards a future where ideas are not merely generated but are also meticulously evaluated, nurtured, and brought to fruition.

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