By Marnix Bras & Jaap van den Beukel
Using a brainstorm technique the right way is essential to come up with anything which is normally not in sight. When brainstorming in a group setting you will be able to take this to a whole different level when brainstorming alone.
It seems a contradiction to structure creativity, the opposite is true. In this article we will give you insights on how to structure brainstorm sessions and the overall creativity process. Controlling and supporting the creation process is fundamental in getting new insights and provides a foundation for future solutions. When the creation process is controlled and well supported the chance for finding a ‘black swan’ or creating a wow-effect increases rapidly.
People process information in a selective way, we tend to think in solutions which we know and are familiar with. We rather look back to solutions we have used successfully in the past. Stimulating people to come up with alternate ideas and braking patterns or old thinking habits is proven to be difficult. The work of Peter Wason, a cognitive psychologist, is an example of how simple puzzles are hard to solve for people because of these habits and thinking patterns.
One of the brainstorm techniques that can be used is called the “lotus blossom”. The first principle of this technique is association. Association works very well when used in groups and stimulates the ideation process to break existing patterns and thinking habits.
How to use this method is showed below:
- Core Word: Define an open and associative definition of a problem. This problem must be related to the challenge but has nothing to do with the final solution. Trying to capture the problem in one word will empower this method, when you can’t use one word a combination of words is also possible.
- Primary associations: Everyone in the group thinks of primary associations related to the Core Word (step 1). Remember: all associations are valid. This step is to think about the concept you’re getting into when hearing the problem definition. Regardless of the preconditions that apply in a company or organization. The first eight (A to H) divergent and clear associations are positioned around the Core Word from step 1.
Example: When associating on the Core Word “Savings” in the context of a financial institution, words related to conservation or preservation arise. Words like “use less water”, “print less”, “save trees”. When facilitating this part it is key to stimulate your group to think more conceptually and you might ask for feelings or emotions towards the core word. Things like “fear of inflation” or “high interest rates”. The same goes for synonyms you can allow one or two but then ask people to think more conceptually.
- Transport: Duplicate these associations and position them outwards.
- Secondary Associations: Everyone from the group thinks again about associations on the associations from step 1. The so-called Secondary Associations. Elemental here is that you focus on the secondary associations without the core word in mind. This yields eight lotus flowers with eight concepts around A through H.
Using this method generates a long list of ideas and will give a headstart in the next step. The next step is where the magic happens and you start playing with these ideas.
- The magic: Combine a random association from the Secondary Associations with an appealing Secondary Association from another flower. This time try to keep the primary problem in mind. What ideas will be generated?
Step five can result in more than thousands of ideas which are related to the solution. To make you still have progress and keeping the flow, accept the fact that there might be combination of words with no ideas attached. Take two other words and continue. There will be ideas which might not be realistic or at first look ridiculous. The best ideas come from the last category and it’s very important to welcome those. This is how you can stimulate the out of the box thinking and open a new perspective to others. Embracing those ideas will lead to outstanding and exceptional results.
Ok, that’s nice and how do you take the next step? There is this long list of ideas and you know that some of the ideas probably won’t make it, some other ideas might have a certain wow factor, but how do you make a next step towards a good end result where as a group feel confident about?
To get more confident you can organize a second session in which you will prioritize your ideas. This can be done immediately after the brainstorm session, but our experiences learn that it is better to take a break first.
During the brainstorm, you are in an enthusiastic and inspiring flow and you don’t want to be guided by the scope or impact of the idea in advance. The break also stimulates the settlement of ideas and ideas will be valued more effectively after the break.
Use a prioritizing method to explore which ideas will be the most interesting and valuable to work on first. A method like “dot voting” or an “easy impact matrix” is very suitable in this phase.
This method and application helped us to look beyond the current and obvious solutions in different projects, to find possible unexpected innovative ideas.
Besides, it creates an inspiring and constructive flow with the people you work with. And that ain’t unimportant.
Some of our examples:
Brainstorm session about “quality” as the core value of the content team of the dutch jurisdiction website. This lotus flower resulted in six branches. This gave dozens of ideas to improve and guarantee the quality of work.
Brainstorm session about the role of the intercessor. Unfortunately we hadn’t one color per association. Result: Dozens of useful online concepts to support the intercessors and centralize their role within the company’s services.
A governmental public service organization
A brainstorm session about an application targeting civilians leading towards vigilance and security. With the Core Word “liveability of neighbourhood residents” we have thought worked with a group to follow this process and a lot of new ideas were born. These are currently being elaborated further to see which ones are useful.
- Keep ideas traceable by giving them the same number on both post-its, or span a line between those post-its. Collect ideas on a separate sheet.
- Write clearly with good markers or sharpies. Do not use a ballpoint or fine-liner, because it forces to write concise with the key points.
- Use one color per type, by example all all secondary associations on a yellow post it
- Use brown paper to stick the post-its and to draw and write on. Within Backelite we have multiple templates on A0 format that can be printed, this allows us to stick to this format and deliver as much value as possible. This provides a handy framework to put sticky notes on.