The Idea Factory
The starting point of any entrepreneurial venture, social or otherwise, is the idea. In many ways, the quality of your idea determines the success of your venture. So how do you come up with a good one? One way to jumpstart your mind and get thinking creatively is by brainstorming.
Brainstorming is probably the best-known creative tool. When you brainstorm, you focus on a particular problem and try to come up with many solutions, pushing the outer limits of what is possible. When brainstorming, it's essential for the critics in your group (or in your head) to keep quiet. They can speak up later.
Rules for group brainstorming
Assuming that you're working as part of a team, we start you off here with a how-to guide on brainstorming together. Sit down with your group, follow these rules and see if you come up with a couple of ideas worth pursuing.
- Choose a leader who defines the problem and keeps the session on course, discouraging evaluation of the ideas and limiting the time used.
- Make sure the participants are diverse.
- Make the session fun, welcoming wildly impractical ideas along with practical ones.
- Spark off one another's ideas with new ideas.
- Keep some record of the session.
Brainstorming has its limitations: it should only be used for generating new ideas and solutions, not for decision-making. It should be targeted to a specific "probortunity" (problem/opportunity). Don't bother brainstorming if you already have several solutions to the problem and are just trying to choose between them.
Creating the right environment for brainstorming
Most of us have hundreds of good ideas waiting to come out. The challenge is creating an environment where those ideas can come out without fear of making mistakes. This requires the group to actively decide not to judge what anyone puts forward. Here, making "mistakes" and putting forward ideas that don't work is not only acceptable but encouraged. Your ideas are never criticized because they can be used either as a solution or a stimulus for other ideas.
Brainstorming should remove, or at least reduce, the fear of making mistakes. The professionalism and attitude of the participants is the key to how much inhibitions are reduced. Sticking to the rules is vital to the success of the session.
Brainstorming isn't the only way to get those juices flowing. Creative thinking guru Edward de Bono offers a myriad of creative "attention-directing tools." A few of them include:
The PMI Working intensely for two or three minutes, examine the Pluses (good points), Minuses (bad points) and Interesting points of a given option. Don't evaluate the options, but scan them objectively, challenging your initial reactions.
The CAF For this exercise, Consider All the Factors in a given situation, without evaluating them. For example, when buying a used car, consider price, previous history, previous owner, condition of the car, mileage, resale value, gas consumption, serviceability, etc.
Mind-mapping This is a technique in which you begin with a central word or concept. Write it on a piece of paper, and around it draw the five to ten main ideas that relate. From each of those, again draw five to ten ideas that relate.
Don't fall for the first good-lookin' idea that comes along
The success or failure of your project does not depend on your team generating the perfect solution on the first try. On the contrary, falling in love with your first idea can get you into big trouble and cause you to miss out on the seemingly dumb idea that might follow immediately in its path.
Edward de Bono writes that it's important to explore alternatives, because alternatives prevent the mind from settling too quickly on a solution. Working with alternatives certainly doesn't simplify the creative process. Rather, having a lot of alternatives creates confusion and opens the door for brilliant things to happen.
Techniques for idea generation
The "Classical Invention" approach helps you discover connections by asking questions about your idea. Ask yourself questions about:
- A physical object: what are its physical characteristics? What sort of structure does it have?
- Events: exactly what happened? What was the cause? The consequences?
- Abstract concepts: how do others define the concept or term? How do you define the term?
- Propositions: what must be established before people believe the proposition? What counter-arguments must be refuted?
Even more techniques
- The journalistic six (who, what, when, where, why, how?)
- Historical examination
- Block busting
- Uses for
- Improvements to
- Analogy and metaphor
- Trigger concepts
and many more!
For explanations, visit http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook2.htm
Brainstorming tips from Ideo
Silicon Valley-based Ideo has sparked some of the most innovative products of the past decade - the Apple mouse, the Polaroid I-Zone Pocket Camera, and the Palm V, among others. But Ideo staffers don't just sit around waiting for good ideas to pop into their heads. The company has institutionalized a process whereby ideas are coaxed to the surface through regular, structured brainstorming sessions. At Ideo, idea-generation exercises are "practically a religion," product development manager Tom Kelley says. Here's a short list of tips from the pros:
1. Sharpen the focus
Start with a well-honed statement of the problem at hand. The best topic statements focus outward on a specific customer need or service enhancement rather than inward on some organizational goal.
2. Write playful rules
Ideo's primary brainstorming rules are simple: "Defer judgment" and "One conversation at a time." The firm believes in its rules so strongly that they're stenciled in eight-inch letters on conference-room walls. "If I'm the facilitator and somebody starts a critique or people start talking, I can enforce the rules without making it feel personal," Kelley says. Other rules include, "Go for quantity," "Be visual," and "Encourage wild ideas."
3. 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.
4. Get physical
At Ideo, brainstorming sessions are often 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. Ideo also keeps materials on hand—blocks, foam core, tubing—to build crude models of a concept.