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Nick Skillicorn

CEO & Founder, Innovation Coach at Improvides
Voted as the world's #7 Innovation blogger in 2014, I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love.

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Nick Skillicorn
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effectivebrainstorming

So you think you know how to brainstorm. Of course you do, the techniques have been around since the 1930s, and millions of people have been trained in them. You may even know some of the more evolved techniques such as Creative Problem Solving. What you might not know is that even though groups feel extremely productive while they are brainstorming, it is in fact a substandard set of techniques.

‘Brainstorming’ was developed as a concept in the 1930s by Alex Osborn, one of the founders of advertising agency BBDO, to get as many ideas as possible from a group. It was based on the following ‘rules’ to encourage ideation as a large group, some of which have since been disproven by scientific studies:
  1. Welcome unusual ideas: No problem with this
  2. Combine and improve ideas: This is fine as well
  3. Withhold criticism: UC Berkeley (2008) showed that when a brainstorming group was allowed to discuss and criticise the group’s ideas, the total number of ideas was higher than a group where criticism was not allowed, and ideas were judged to be of a higher quality.
  4. Focus on quantity: Studies at Yale (1958) and Dr Byron (2013) have shown that when the same number of individuals are asked to come up with ideas individually, they will produce up to 2x as many as a brainstorming group

The evidence is therefore clear that traditional brainstorming is not the most effective. At Improvides, we like to run sessions as Effective Brainstorming. This is a new technique which is tailored to take into account all the methods which science have proven to be more effective than traditional brainstorming.

The aspects of the session, roughly in chronological order, are as follows:

Activity Participants Description
Evaluation Criteria Management and Session organiser Agreement of the criteria which ideas will be assessed against to determine which ones to develop further
Explain background, purpose and aims Whole team Explain to the group the background behind the challenge and what the desired outcome looks like
QuestionStorming Whole team The whole group only asks questions about the challenge, with no elaboration. Written as a list on wall. Focus should be on customers’ implicit views, the market, trends, the company etc
Individual Idea Writing Individuals – in silence People take a pile of Post-it notes and go to a quiet place, write as many ideas as they can while not disturbing others
Presenting individual ideas & group them Whole team Individuals put their Post-Its onto the wall one by one, even if idea has already been mentioned. Then group rearranges all post its so that similar ideas are together in groupings.
Discuss and refine idea groupings Whole team The team gives their views on the groups of ideas, builds on them and refines ideas to make them more tangible
Evaluate ideas against criteria, refine further Either whole team, or management afterwards Refined ideas are then discussed against evaluation criteria. Some will be killed, others will fit well, others will need to be refined further
Next Steps & Actions for individuals Whole team, individuals note their personal actions Everyone in the group then discusses the next steps required and takes down their personal actions. Sometimes this waits until management evaluates the ideas

The timings will vary depending on the amount of time available. But the results will speak for themselves.

Improvides can train your teams in Effective Brainstorming, or act as an unbiased Facilitator for a session if you want to see immediate results.  Contact Us for more information or to make an enquiry.

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