How do you generate better and more creative ideas for innovation, CI (Continuous Improvement), and BPR (Business Process Re-Engineering)? According to the McKinsey Quarterly, you need better brainstorming instead of the familiar brainstorming process where the company brings in an outside moderator who knows little about the business and offers little motivation to the employees who do not think that the session is a good use of time.
This process, that the authors call “brainsteering”, is a more advanced form of brainstorming that requires more preparation, the ability to leverage how people typically think, and the leadership to steer the energy wasted in a typical brainstorming session into a productive direction. The preparation starts with the following seven steps:
- Know Your Organization’s Decision Making Criteria
It’s useless to think outside the box if the organizational policies create boxes that cannot be escaped. Make sure any absolute criteria are known and outlined in advance. This allows participants to avoid wasting time on ideas that will not be accepted and makes for a more productive session.
- Ask the Right Questions
Decades of research has shown that traditional, loosely structured brainstorming techniques, are inferior to approaches that provide (some) structure. One of the best techniques is to use (well-designed) questions as the platform for idea generation. The “right” questions, of which there should be about one per person, are those that force participants to take a new, unfamiliar perspective while still limiting the conceptual space the team will explore (to the organizational box of the first step).
- Choose the Right People
Specifically, pick people, with “in the trenches” knowledge, who can likely answer the questions you’re asking. Don’t bring an MBA to help you with CI on the NPD process for electronic component design.
- Divide and Conquer
Conduct multiple, discreet, highly-focused idea generation sessions among subgroups of 3-5 people that focus on a single question, or a small set of related questions, being sure to isolate “idea crushers” in their own subgroup. This will ensure that everyone speaks up and contributes.
- On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!
Before you break the participants into subgroups and set them off, take the time to clearly explain your expectations, which revolve around a deeper consideration of key questions than traditional brainstorming sessions. Explain that, given the restrictions, a group may only generate two or three worthy ideas and that any ideas outside the scope of the current discussion should be written down and saved for the appropriate time.
- Wrap it Up
While each subgroup should share all of its leading ideas with the entire group to motivate and inspire participants, the group shouldn’t pick a winner. Since the participants won’t always have the executive-level or subject matter expert understanding of the criteria and considerations that must go into prioritizing ideas, picking winners is not a fruitful exercise. Instead, describe what steps the organization will use to pick the winners and how, and when, the winning ideas will be announced.
- Follow Up Quickly
Decisions and announcements should be quick and thorough. Team members won’t be demoralized if their idea wasn’t chosen, instead, their morale will be increased when they get feedback as to why the winner was picked that they can use to generate better ideas next time.
Some of these steps contain some good advice, and the McKinsey Quarterly article on seven steps to better brainstorming contains some great examples. Check it out.