I came across this interesting article over at FastCompany. The title of the article is “You’re Probably Not Brainstorming Long Enough.” The short of it is that just when things get tough, and the ideas start drying up, that’s the time when the great ideas are just around the corner. Just go longer, do a “Brain marathon.”
I definitely agree that often the great ideas start coming after the obvious ideas are exhausted. Heck, my last post was about this very topic. 🙂 However, the problem with the marathon concept is that it’s unnecessary. I’ve said it before:
Brainstorming should be a process, not an event.
Give yourself, and others, time to plan and ideate.
Your brain, >YOU< need to take time to understand the problem, process it, think of alternatives, sketch, prototype, play. There’s no need to force it to occur in the span of an 8 hour day.
Instead of pushing everyone into a room for a half day or more, spend some time setting up the actual ‘event’. Give people the problem statement. Prime the pump, get people thinking about the problem and possible solutions on their own or in small groups of two. (If you want a copy of the template I use for initiating and planning a brainstorm, click here and send me a message 🙂 ) Then, and only then, after everyone has had a chance to ruminate, then have the actual session.
But Plish, why brainstorm if everyone has already thought of ideas?
Isaac Asimov sums it up nicely (from his, “How do people get new ideas?“):
It seems to me then that the purpose of cerebration sessions is not to think up new ideas but to educate the participants in facts and fact-combinations, in theories and vagrant thoughts.
No two people exactly duplicate each other’s mental stores of items. One person may know A and not B, another may know B and not A, and either knowing A and B, both may get the idea—though not necessarily at once or even soon.
Furthermore, the information may not only be of individual items A and B, but even of combinations such as A-B, which in themselves are not significant. However, if one person mentions the unusual combination of A-B and another the unusual combination A-C, it may well be that the combination A-B-C, which neither has thought of separately, may yield an answer.
In other words, the focus of the actual session is to cross-pollinate, to share ideas, to create new combinations from existing ideas. What I’ve also noticed is that brand new ideas also surface during this time.
But perhaps most important, when people think in little portions well in advance of an ideation session, they don’t have to drink from a marathon fire-hose. Instead of a full day event, 2-4 hours is sufficient. No one gets worn out and the quality of the ideation session is much better.
After this shorter session, combine all the ideas, redistribute them to all the team and let them make even more new connections.
After that, then pick the ideas that are worth moving forward on and prototype some more.
When all is said and done, there’s no reason for a single, exhausting marathon session (remember, legend has it the first marathon runner died after delivering news of a military victory!).
Put some planning into the process and not only will you save frustration getting great ideas, you save time.