In my last blog post, I talked about the importance of brainstorming to the creative process, and why coming up with many ideas quickly is the best approach. Often, people push back on this notion, arguing that rambling off a lot of crazy ideas without thinking them through is a waste of time. “Wouldn’t it be better,” they insist, “to come up with a few fully developed, doable ideas?”
The answer is a resounding “no.”
Coming up with a lots of crazy ideas, and building off of that creativity is a critical step in the creative process — which is why brainstorming is third on the list of the Six Habits of Highly Creative People. The key is what you do with that list of ideas once the brainstorming session ends.
We refer to this as “idea selection” (also known as habit #4). This fourth habit closes the loop on brainstorming and provides those naysayers with the opportunity they so desperately seek, to review every idea in detail, so that they can determine which ones have the most potential and which ones can be set free.
Even though the people selecting the ideas are the ones who originally generated them, we often find they can be a little overwhelmed by the embarrassment of riches. That’s the whole point. As I mentioned in the brainstorming blog post, the best way to find good ideas is to generate many of them — and that’s what brainstorming gives us.
Don’t Play it Safe
So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?
First, you have to let go of the deeply ingrained impulse to choose the ideas that are safest, cheapest and/or easiest to implement. That is not the point of this process, and it will undo all the creative effort you’ve invested to this point. Instead, you have to remind yourself that the point of the innovation process is to do things differently, even if they seem risky, more costly, and more complicated to deliver.
Remember in their “brainstorming” state, most ideas aren’t necessarily practical or cost-effective, and that’s okay. Idea selection is still very early in the product development cycle, and the choices you make today will likely not look anything like the final product. The goal is to pick ideas that excite you today, so you can hone them into solutions that are feasible down the line. Remember, it’s much easier to tame a wild idea into something feasible, than to build a boring idea into something exciting.
To ensure you make the best choices, follow these three criteria for brilliant ideas:
They must be inspirational.
You want to pick ideas that are so exciting or extreme you can’t stop talking about them.
They are connected.
Every idea has to link back to the specific problem you are trying to solve for a specific audience. This is vital because even the most amazing solution will fail if it doesn’t address your customer’s needs.
They are relevant:
Sometimes the brainstorming process can go off track, resulting in interesting ideas that aren’t relevant to the problem at hand. In Idea selection, it is important to be sure the ideas you chose are relevant to your audience and answer the brilliant question you established at the start of this process.
Once the criteria are clear, give everyone three sticky notes to attach to the ideas that they think are the most inspirational, relevant and/or connected. They can choose three different ideas, or clump them all together on one idea — but they should do it quickly without discussion.
Once the votes are cast, the team should discuss why they chose the ideas they chose, where there are synergies between ideas, and how they can group ideas together to make them more exciting. That does not mean grouping ideas together that are similar. Rather it means building ideas on top of each other to make them better.
For example, we once worked with a medical devices company that wanted to make their highly complex and costly machine easier to fix. Ideas that got grouped together included adding Alexa to the machine so users could ask it what’s going wrong; incorporating video content to show how to fix common problems; and creating an automated diagnostic tool that alerts users when a problem may soon occur. These were all different ideas that added exponential value when grouped together.
Eventually the team should settle on two to four ideas, or combinations of ideas, to explore further in prototypes (which I’ll discuss in my next blog).
When companies first start using brainstorming and idea selection to foster creative thinking, it can be useful to have a guide or coach to walk them through the process. But once a team gets adept at these techniques – and learns how to avoid the pitfalls that lead to mediocre solutions – they can implement them any time they need a little inspiration.
Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.
Luke Brodie is an enthusiastic Master Facilitator with ExperiencePoint. He energizes groups of business leaders through spirited deliveries of award-winning ExperienceInnovation and ExperienceChange workshops for Fortune 500 companies. He also empowers training partners to scale their impact around the globe. Luke holds an MBA from the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University and has worked internationally in a variety of professional roles including airline management and as a professional musician.