We all have a great creative power, sometimes more evident and sometimes more hidden, but it always exists. It is in each one of us, we just need to awaken it. We can use the brainstorming technique in different areas, from solving a problem in which we are stuck to the ideation of a new product or functionality. It is a technique that can be used in Inception or Design Thinking sessions.
This technique is very powerful, but it is often hard to get started. The advantage is that once it starts, it is difficult to stop. It is best to approach this exercise in a group, because creativity is contagious and often the sum of ideas generates exponentially more ideas. The session is structured as explained below and starts from an existing question to be worked on. We usually face a brainstorming session after a session of empathy and detection of the user’s needs. It is important to emphasize and go deeper into the real needs and not what the user thinks he wants. It is important to ask the right question. To quote Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have told me faster horses“. It would be better to ask: “The user needs to reduce his travel time, how can he do it?
Phase 1: Prepare our minds
This first phase is optional, but recommended. It begins by preparing the team, opening the minds of all participants with an icebreaker that, in addition to connecting them with each other and bringing their minds to the session, puts the creative hemisphere of their brain, which is the right one, to work. For example, we have them take an object and think about how they would use it if they were on a desert island. Maybe a plate would make a good hat or an earring would make a fishhook, right?
Phase 2: Divergence
We start the ideation exercise. We can choose to use digital collaborative tools such as Miro or Mural or physical material such as post-it notes, markers or Lego Serious Play. First of all, we must understand that ideas do not have to make sense, but rather that they constitute a powerful root that branches out and from which new ideas emerge. The objective is to generate divergent thinking so that many ideas emerge, which will be the inspiration for the solution itself. To achieve this, there are a series of criteria that must be met:
- Any idea, no matter how crazy or implausible, is welcome. In fact, it had better be. Wasn’t reaching the moon once an outlandish fantasy? The best realities come from the most impossible ideas .
- Don’t judge. It is important that all participants have an open mind to create and to listen. We have to put aside shame, fear of being wrong and a sense of the absurd.
- Be visual. By making or trying to understand a drawing, new ideas emerge. In addition, when we have to review them to select some, it will be easier. We can also use Lego Serious Play or other objects to shape and share our ideas.
- Build on other ideas, because that is a new idea that increases the chances of reaching the solution. If one participant comments on his idea, surely another one can add something about it. It doesn’t matter if it makes it better or worse, it’s a new idea!
- Focus on the problem or goal you are trying to solve or achieve. It’s okay to ramble on, but always stick to the goal at hand. Very often ideas just emerge, which can lead us down a completely new path where we may end up discussing a whole different topic. It should be allowed to digress, but always keeping in mind the objective, without deviating from it.
- Listen to others and have only one conversation at a time. Otherwise, we will be limiting someone else’s creativity and that ability to infect each other. In addition, we will no longer be a team. If you feel you have a good idea to tell and you don’t want to forget it, write it down on a post-it and share it later.
- We are looking to generate a lot of ideas, not the best idea. The more ideas, the more inspiration, the more opportunities to experiment and the more chances of success in finding that great idea or solution we are looking for.
A help in moments of blockage is to ask ourselves questions such as: what if there were no money limit, what if there were no time limit, what if they let us do whatever we wanted, what if there were no risks, what if nothing was impossible? Let’s remember again a Henry Ford’s famous phrase: “wasn’t it inconceivable madness to invent a machine to replace horses and carriages?”.
Phase 3: Convergence
After the brainstorming exercise, it is time to converge and choose two or three ideas to work on, prototype and experiment with. Keep in mind that when we converge and select each of these ideas, we are opening ourselves to new questions that will arise around them. In fact, we can iterate on each of these ideas and diverge again to dig into them and develop new ones.
To select ideas, we can vote, group them together or put two ideas into one. We then need to identify the key ideas and discuss which ideas to pursue and how to do it. At this moment of convergence we do allow ourselves to judge the idea and help us with our intuition, having empathy with the users and the needs we want to solve and looking at each idea with a more realistic vision, can it be implemented?
Do we repeat?
Finally, as we mentioned, we can iterate and repeat the diverge (phase 2) and converge (phase 3) stages with the most voted ideas in the convergence phase to further refine them.
Brainstorming can be scary and is not as simple as presenting a problem and asking: how can we solve it? With all these tips we can achieve a very profitable session but, above all, let’s trust in the creativity that we all have and in the spread of it throughout the session. As we said before, once you start coming up with ideas, it’s hard to stop!
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