Every organization will benefit from an input of fresh ideas. These can be about products, services, promotions, packaging, human resources – any aspect of an enterprise.
Even if you don’t have any pressing problems to solve at the moment, it’s always healthy to give others a chance to have their say about your business.
One of the best ways to come up with new ideas is through the use of brainstorming. It may sound like an intellectual free-for-all but that’s not the case. Properly used, regular brainstorming sessions will tap into a wealth of great ideas that may otherwise have gone undiscovered.
First you need to assemble a group of people to brainstorm with you. Everybody has a creative side so there’s no need to rigorously structure the group. Your friends, other business owners, your suppliers and even your next door neighbors all qualify as ‘people’ when you’re putting a brainstorming session together.
Another really important point is that everybody in a brainstorming session is an equal. Each participant should be encouraged to speak up and not be concerned with such things as age, titles or experience in a particular field.
Keep the size of your group fairly small. Try for people who are reasonably outspoken and can get along well together. The intention is to form a group that will meet on a regular basis for short periods and throw out ideas on something to do with your business.
Brainstorming works well as a four-step process with you as the facilitator or leader of the group. Step one is to generate a quantity of ideas for consideration. These can be as sensible or wild as may be; we’re after quantity in step one and the quality comes later.
Begin by stating a goal for the meeting. It might be ‘to find a better way to deliver pizzas’ or ‘to get some ideas about new items to stock for Christmas’. It can even be as vague as ‘to make customers happy’ or ‘to make more money’. In brainstorming any topic can be given the treatment.
Go around the room and get ideas from members of the group. It might start slowly and if suggestions aren’t readily forthcoming ask a particular individual for their thoughts. Once the group’s dynamic is activated things really start to happen.
Record every suggestion on a white board so none get overlooked. If you don’t have a large whiteboard just tape pieces of paper all over the wall. Neatness doesn’t count when the creative ideas are flowing. The ideas and notes have to remain visible to everybody in the group.
Step two is to evaluate the ideas from step one as quickly as possible and narrow them down to a manageable number that the group generally agrees has some potential for application. This isn’t as hard as it sounds since you’ve already begun to tap into the collective mind of the group and everyone’s started to look at the list and form their own thoughts on those topics.
Step three is a discussion of each of the remaining ideas one by one. These ideas have now become the property of the group and every member is encouraged to take part. Here are some rules that will make your brainstorming session deliver better results.
• Suspend judgement and stay with the positives. The ‘bad’ ideas have already been ruled out so look for the good in each of the ideas you’re discussing.
• Give each idea a quick makeover. What can be done to make it bigger, better, stronger? This is where you add value to an already good idea. Write everything down as before.
• Don’t let costs or what you might think of as practicality get in the way. You’re only concerned with the quality of the ideas themselves.
• Put a time limit on each idea. Every idea is equal until it’s ruled out, so give it three or four minutes and keep an eye on the clock.
• Two or more ideas can be combined if that’s the way to make them work best. It’s also acceptable for a new idea to be based on an earlier one. No individual has ownership of any idea at this stage.
When every idea has been covered and the group’s suggestions noted, ask them to agree on the best five or six ideas that have survived the process. It might require an exercise in democracy (take a vote!) but this is the final responsibility for the group to undertake.
Now it’s time to thank them and break out the coffee and doughnuts or whatever else is appropriate to reward them for their contributions. Make it a good social occasion and you’ll have a better chance of getting them back again.
Think of the value of what you now have in your possession. You’ve managed to identify five or six really good ideas about your business that are the product of several minds working together. That’s brainstorming in a nutshell.
Now it’s time for step four. You have some independent work to do after everyone’s gone. Take the five or six winning ideas and put them through your own process of analysis.
Think of the negatives for each idea. Now you can give consideration to such things as costs and whether or not the ideas are practical for you to implement. Look for faults and flaws and be as harsh as you can.
Next, see if you can overcome these negatives. Some ideas will literally scrap themselves because the negatives far outweigh the positives. Eventually you’ll wind up with a few really good ideas that are both affordable and practical. These are the gems you’re looking for.
Conduct some research on each of these ideas and see if you can find out what others have done with similar ones. The internet is very helpful here – put the keywords into Google and see what comes out. You may find that somewhere in the world others have taken the same ideas and done some really great things with them.
At the end of all this you’ll come out ahead, but only if you actually implement the ideas you’ve generated through brainstorming. If you’re doing something that you’ve never tried before, give the group a chance in future sessions to help with monitoring the idea’s progress and helping you overcome any teething troubles.
Incidentally, brainstorming also works well for problems. The process is about the same as looking for good ideas, but in this case you propose a problem or problems to the group and the target becomes one of finding solutions.
Hold regular brainstorming sessions with the same group and you’ll find things run even more smoothly once everyone gets used to working together. Just be sure to show your gratitude for their efforts and keep them informed of your progress with their best ideas.
Brainstorming is really just a structured approach to the generation of ideas that works because it doesn’t allow preconceptions and negatives to overcome creativity.
Give it a try and see what comes out of it. You never know what’s going to happen but you can be sure it’s going to be interesting.
This article was originally published in the April 2004 edition of ONEderings ezine.
Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/features/news.asp?ID=3969