Brainstorming: Seven Steps to Put Ideas into Action

brainstormingIdea generation and brainstorming are the first steps towards innovation, but execution and implementation are also important parts of the process.

It’s an area where many organizations struggle — moving from the creative brainstorm into prototyping or building actual systems.

In an article first published in the MITSloan Management Review and summarized in a recent post, innovation consultants Joseph V. Sinfield, Tim Gustafson, and Brian Hindo argue that “while brainstorming sessions are frequently fun for participants, the output is too often considered impractical just days after the exercise.”

As a way to combat ineffective brainstorming, they offer a seven-step game plan to improve brainstorming, and help put those ideas into meaningful action.

Define the Problem and Solution Space

Before starting a brainstorming session, set boundaries to help focus the discussion and idea generation process. Are you trying to solve a customer problem? Define what that problem is, and focus ideas on solving that specific problem only.

“Constraining the problem and solution space forces idea generators to delve into an area. The result is typically a much broader range of ideas that are on target and have real potential to move forward toward impact.”

Break the Problem Down

A problem can occasionally look so large and complex that you don’t know where to start. A visual technique like mind-mapping or diagramming can help break complicated processes into smaller pieces that are much easier to address.

Diagramming a complex logistical problem like shipping can float obstacles to the surface. Address each obstacle or barrier individually, and you’ll be on your way to solving the complex problem

Make the Problem Personal

Customer complaints and/or needs are personal to them, so if you are trying to solve a customer experience or service issue at the organizational level, make it personal to you and your team.

Asking those directly affected by the problem (and eventual solution) can be a valuable check. “The goal is to make it as real as possible to the people who will be generating ideas.”

Seek the Perspectives of Outsiders

Welcome and seek out perspectives from those outside your organization or specific area of expertise. In the shipping example mentioned earlier, think about everyone impacted by shipping procedures and protocols — warehouse personnel, technology integrators, administrative staff — and consider any proposed solution through their eyes and experience.

Diverge Before you Converge

Honest, open dialogue around problem solving requires a little conflict to really uncover the possible outcomes, and give each potential solution its fair shake. In order to keep your sessions short, the authors suggests asking meeting participants to brainstorm individually before presenting them to the larger group for consideration.

“Having lots of ideas on paper before the discussion begins prevents the group from rallying around any specific solution too soon.”

Create “Idea Resumes”

An idea resume is a simple document that lists how customers will learn about the new process or solution, what resources are needed to make it a reality, and how the solution will reduce costs or add revenue.

They “ensure that ideas are evaluated on their merits rather than on how well they are pitched.”

Create a Plan to Learn

Test, test, and test some more.

Once you’ve chosen an idea from the pool of idea resumes, it is time to begin testing and see what lessons can be extracted. How can you improve? What are the necessary next steps? What is the timeline?

What tips can you offer to launching more ideas into action?