Authors Kevin P. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne write about idea generation and how to do it best.
The book: Brainsteering: A Better Approach to Breakthrough Ideas, by Kevin P. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne; HarperBusiness.
The big idea: Ask and ye shall conceive. Idea generation structured around questions that send the mind down unfamiliar paths is far more fruitful than out-of-the-box free-for-alls.
The backstory: The brothers Coyne are former McKinseyites who run their own boutique consulting firm, The Coyne Partnership. They have spent more than a decade refining their approach to idea creation for clients.
If you read nothing else: The chapter on developing effective questions analyzes queries that produce good answers. Such questions identify customer problems and reveal approaches that don't fall under standard operating procedures. The chapter on balancing creativity and analysis walks readers through a remarkably detailed and illuminating exegesis of a new-business idea—a service that refuels cars while they sit in a parking lot all day.
Ask and ye shall receive: Those uninspired to develop their questions can loot from the 101 examples in the appendix. For example: How would our product change if it were tailored for every customer? Or: Who is our single most successful salesperson, and what does he or she say about our product that is different from what an average salesperson says?
Rigor rating: 8 (1=Who Moved My Cheese?; 10=Good to Great). Though they don't always name their subjects, the Coynes draw on more than 130 company examples.
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan