To really do effective and efficient brainstorming I’ve found that the process can’t be a free for all. You have to have objectives and you have to have structure. It almost sounds counter intuitive to the idea of creative exploration, but really it isn’t. Structure and objectives provide focus and a level of comfort for those important people on a team that may not think of themselves as being creative. Often those same people who feel uncomfortable have a lot to offer and a big stake in whether some ideas go forward. So, it just makes sense to include them in the early creative process.
I find that creating the opportunity for intense focus on a problem or a product starts by eliminating variables. Let’s face it, just by the nature of doing group work there are a lot of variables…personality, background, political agendas. I use a technique that comes out of the world of quantitative research and is actually something I learned from my good friend Ron Nelson. Ron looked at the technique of problem-detection with its ensuing statistical analysis, and thought why not turn it around and evaluate the positive. He taught me about promise testing and I took it a step further for use as a way to structure brainstorming. Here is how it works.
First, whatever the opportunity you are working on begin by framing it using the 5-steps I outlined in a previous post. Here they are again for those of you who missed it.
1. Problem (What problem is the new idea trying to solve)
2. Solution (How the new idea solves the problem)
3. Benefit to you (What is the one major benefit to the buyer, consumer etc.)
4. How it works (What are the features of the idea that support the benefit)
5. Don’t worry (The answer to the one major objection your consumer would have. Think of this is the lingering doubt we all have about new ideas)
Once you’ve done the framing, now fracture the idea to get the creative juices flowing. You fracture the idea by using promises. Promises are simple. They are sentences that state a benefit followed by a reason why, or if you will a reason to believe. Here is an example.
This blog post will make you more confident in your next brainstorming session, that’s because it tells you the structure for expressing your idea in over 50 ways.
Notice how the promise is written. It always starts with a benefit (not a feature) and is followed with a reason the reader should believe you can deliver the benefit. I generally write 50-60 of these going into a brainstorming session, after I’ve had a chance to gather individual input from the project team. Note I said individual input not group. Individuals, if interviewed correctly, do a lot less political censoring.
I write all the promises for a brainstorming session, because I can then eliminate one variable…writing style. When the team comes to the brainstorming session there is a big reveal of all the promises and most people see their ideas expressed creatively, and that makes them energetic about the work ahead. Even the most pragmatic in the group can see how they have contributed to the creative process. They all see how the idea has been fractured and feel confident that when we re-frame it we have virtually left no stone unturned.
I won’t get into the mechanics of a brainstorming approach I’ve branded CenterStorm, but perhaps you can see that structurally fracturing your idea helps everyone focus, allowing for better expansion and contraction of ideas and ultimately better creative outcomes.