Have you ever tried to get your team to brainstorm a breakthrough idea for a product or service only to find the process mostly yields extensions of existing ideas.
Research on creative thinking gives us these four simple suggestions that will greatly aid in generating great ideas in a short period of time:
Fluency: Whoever said one good idea is better than a thousand mediocre ones probably never invented anything. More is better. One of the inhibitors to creative thinking is your voice of judgment that kicks in when you think too long about the viability of your idea. The key is to generate ideas a faster than you can evaluate them. This will produce some unusual and impractical ideas that will serve as triggers for novel ideas that work.
- Practice: Give your team a quota of at least 100 ideas in 15 minutes for each challenge. Post them on the wall for all to see. Use these raw ideas to trigger new ideas that are both novel and viable.
Flexibility: Steve Jobs remarked, "Creativity is just connecting things." Creating a breakthrough idea may simply be a matter of reapplying an idea from one situation to another. For example, to improve their patient experience during hospital stay, a medical center sent their doctors to live in a posh hotel one week and their own hospital the next. The center simply applied the practices of the hotel to the hospital to completely transform the patient experience.
- Practice: Ask your team to look at the challenge from the point of view of successful companies outside of your domain or setting. How would [Company X] approach this opportunity? How did [Company Y] solve this problem? The farther away from your own industry you get the more novel the ideas will be.
Freedom: Power dynamics don't change just because a team is brainstorming off-site. The boss is still the boss. Even subtle forms of authority can stifle creative thinking. Whoever stands by the flip chart or white board writing down the ideas is either the most powerful person in the room, because they can edit all responses, or the least powerful because they act as a scribe for others. You can't change power dynamics so it's better to organize your teams and brainstorming session to manage them.
- Practice: Divide and conquer. Break your team down into sub-groups and have them brainstorm in different locations. Staff each sub-group so that no one can dominate or stifle the others. Make sure that everyone writes and every idea is heard. Recombine these sub-groups in a sequence so that truly original ideas have a chance to develop before being evaluated.
Flow: Most of us have experienced a feeling of effortlessness and timelessness when doing something creative like painting. Researchers call this our flow state: when we are the most creative and "in the zone." Some people are creative in the morning while others at night. Some people are most creative when listening to music while others need contemplative silence. The key is to find a time and place where team members typically enter these flow states.
- Practice: Ask team members when and where they are most creative. Plan your brainstorming session around these preferences. Give teams sufficient time to get into a flow state but don't expect it to last longer than an hour.
Getting bigger and better ideas is only the beginning. Next, you need to find the courage and minimal resources to create a wide array of experiments and prototypes and sustain the momentum all the way to commercialization.