By Kevin P. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne
Most attempts at brainstorming are doomed. To generate better ideas—and boost the odds that your organization will act on them—start by asking better questions
Some real important insight
1. Know your organization’s decision-making criteria (The Decision Criteria deployed in MDG)
One reason good ideas hatched in corporate brainstorming sessions often go nowhere is that they are beyond the scope of what the organization would ever be willing to consider.
2. Ask the right questionsDecades of academic research shows that traditional, loosely structured brainstorming techniques (“Go for quantity—the greater the number of ideas, the greater the likelihood of winners!”) are inferior to approaches that provide more structure.The best way we’ve found to provide it is to use questions as the platform for idea generation.
3. Choose the right peopleThe rule here is simple: pick people who can answer the questions you’re asking. As obvious as this sounds, it’s not what happens in many traditional brainstorming sessions, where participants are often chosen with less regard for their specific knowledge than for their prominence on the org chart.
4. Divide and conquerTo ensure fruitful discussions like the one the catalog retailer generated, don’t have your participants hold one continuous, rambling discussion among the entire group for several hours. Instead, have them conduct multiple, discrete, highly focused idea generation sessions among subgroups of three to five people—no fewer, no more
5. On your mark, get set, go!After your participants arrive, but before the division into subgroups, orient them so that your expectations about what they will—and won’t—accomplish are clear.
6. Wrap it upBy day’s end, a typical subgroup has produced perhaps 15 interesting ideas for further exploration. You’ve been running multiple subgroups simultaneously, so your 20-person team has collectively generated up to 60 ideas. What now?
One thing not to do is have the full group choose the best ideas from the pile, as is common in traditional brainstorming. In our experience, your attendees won’t always have an executive-level understanding of the criteria and considerations that must go into prioritizing ideas for actual investment. The experience of picking winners can also be demotivating, particularly if the real decision makers overrule the group’s favorite choices later.
Instead, have each subgroup privately narrow its own list of ideas to a top few and then share all the leading ideas with the full group to motivate and inspire participants
7. Follow up quickly (Remember our rule—decisions must be made within 5 working days or you lose them—growth is about momentum)Decisions and other follow-up activities should be quick and thorough