Monday, May 21, 2007

Tips for effective brainstorming

Previously I had written about Tom Kelley's fine book, The Ten Faces of Innovation. Some of the points Kelley makes about how to innovate effectively were excerpted in an article by BusinessWeek.

I must say, BusinessWeek really gets it when it comes to writing about innovation. They know who to talk to and how to extract the important stuff the innovators are trying to get across. For the most part, they recognize hype when they see it. Here are some of their lessons from Kelley's book.

Seven Secrets of Effective Brainstorming
  1. Sharpen your focus. Focusing on a specific latent customer need or one step of the customer journey can often spark a good ideation session.
  2. Mind the playground rules. Go for quantity, encourage wild ideas, be visual, defer judgement, one conversation at a time.
  3. Number your ideas. Numbering your ideas motivates participants, sets a pace, and adds a little structure. A hundred ideas per hour is usually a sign of a good, fluid brainstorm.
  4. Jump and build. You may have a flurry of ideas, and then they start to get repetitive or peter out. That's when the facilitator may need to suggest switching gears.
  5. Remember to use the space. Write and draw your concepts with markers on giant Post-Its stuck to every vertical surface.
  6. Stretch first. Ask attendees to do a little homework on the subject the night before. Play a zippy word game to clear the mind and set aside everyday distractions.
  7. Get physical. At IDEO, we keep foam core, tubing, duct tape, hot-melt glue guns, and other prototyping basics on hand to sketch, diagram, and make models.
How to Build an Innovation Lab
  1. Make room for 15 to 20 people. Even if the core project teams will be small, you'll want to share the results (and even work in process) with lots of your colleagues.
  2. Dedicate the space to innovation. Your creative efforts need to live on without scheduling or moving.
  3. Leave ample wall space for sketch boards, maps, pictures, and other engaging visuals. Don't use delicate surfaces or precious materials that would inhibit maximum creative use of all vertical and horizontal surfaces.
  4. Locate your lab in a place convenient to most team members. Make it near enough for even part-time team members to drop in...but far enough away so they can't hear their desk phone ringing.
  5. Foster an abundance mentality. Stock the lab with an oversupply of innovation staples: prototyping kits, Post-Its of every size and color, masking tape, blank storyboard frames, fat-tipped felt markets for drawing, X-Acto knives, and so on.
How to Observe with the Skill of an Anthropologist
  1. Practice the Zen principle of "beginner's mind" -- they have the wisdom to observe with a truly open mind.
  2. Embrace human behavior with all its surprises. Don't judge, empathize.
  3. Draw inferences by listening to your intuition. Don't be afraid to draw on your own instincts when developing hypotheses about the emotional underpinnings of observed human behavior.
  4. Seek out epiphanies through a sense of "vuja de." Vuja de is the opposite of déjà vu. It's a sense of seeing something for the first time, even if you have witnessed it many times before.
  5. Search for clues in the trash bin. Look for insights where they're least expected -- before customers arrive, after they leave, even in the garbage. Look beyond the obvious, and seek inspiration in unusual places.

I watched a company go through the process of trying to learn how to innovate. They got the physical part mostly right: they cleared a lot of dedicated space and put new equipment and comfy chairs in those spaces, and designated people as "creative types" to use the space to "innovate." It was the process stuff they couldn't get right. The "creative types" revelled in their positions as company-designated innovators, were extremely territorial, were rigidly inflexible in their approach to problem solving, and shot down the ideas of others who weren't part of their in-group. If customers were consulted at all, it was only as a way of legitimizing the creative types' own opinions of what needed to be created. The managers in charge seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the creative types had no real committment to innovation other than as a means of promoting their own agendas.

Bottom line: Creative types have a duty to create and innovate. Managers need to learn enough about the innovation (or design) process to recognize the proper behavior, reward the good and discourage the bad.

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