Brainstorming and Innovation: What do they have in common?

Do you think you know how to brainstorm? Sure you do. Does it look like this?

  1. Get a bunch of people in a room with a whiteboard.
  2. Propose a problem and have everyone start shouting out solutions with someone furiously writing everything down.
  3. Use colored markers.
  4. Get some of those sticky pads, write things on them and hang the sheets on the walls.
  5. At the end of the prescribed period of time, congratulate yourselves and go out for a beer.

While this is a nice change of pace from hanging out with your laptop all day long, it may not be generating the results you’re looking for. The purpose of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible. But how do you know if you’re getting “good” ideas? Did you actually get out of the box?

And why are you generating all these ideas anyway? Is it to solve a problem? Is it to innovate? Well then, did your process actually conjure anything you can actually use and follow up on?

It may be time to start thinking differently about idea generation. And it may be time to consider that adding a some structure to your efforts to make them more productive and generate more differentiated ideas if not actual innovation. Here are some articles that can help shape your thinking around this topic.

Group Think – This article from The New Yorker actually describes brainstorming as a myth, describes its origins and talks about the research behind what kinds of strategies have been proven to generate the kinds of ideas that lead to innovation.

7 Unique Brainstorming Techniques via

Brainstorming via Mindtools – be sure to check out the techniques in the Take Your Brainstorming Further box towards the bottom of the page.

Examining the Design Process – this article is about idea generation in graphic design, but the proposed process can be transferred to other areas and there is a good discussion about why idea generation is difficult that certainly applies outside the creative fields.