brainstorming and leadership - effective leaders listen in brainstorming sessions for creativity and team building
brainstorming and leadership - effective leaders listen in brainstorming sessions for creativity and team building
brainstorming and leadership - effective leaders listen in brainstorming sessions for creativity and team building

IDEO and The Art of Innovation: Brainstorming Techniques for Teams


 

This section examines a book by Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman, The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firm (Currency (Doubleday), 2001), with commentary and analysis by Bruce Wilson.

IDEO is an award winning product design firm headquartered in Silicon Valley known for innovations such as the original Apple mouse, the Palm V, innovative toys, defibrillators and other medical devices, snow board goggles, shopping carts, office furniture, software, and more.

In addition to this section about brainstorming, businessLISTENING.com has sections reviewing IDEO's methods for observing and understanding customers, and prototyping that examine the relationships between these methods and business listening generally.


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Brainstorming a la IDEO

IDEO ranks highly efficient, simply structured "brainstorming" by its staff as essential for floating good ideas, like cream, to the top. Listening to one-another's ideas fuels rapid development of innovative solutions and building team trust, awareness, and motivation.

To power an effective brainstorming session, rather than running free-for-all bull sessions on the one hand, or heavily scripted meetings on the other, IDEO builds the following "dos" and "don'ts"into an otherwise no-holds-barred process.

Brainstorming Dos:

Start a brainstorming session with a short written question narrowly defining the problem to be worked on. In formulating this question don't assume too much about how the problem is going to be solved.

On a large sign in the brainstorming room post a rule prohibiting "critiquing and debating" during brainstorming, or a bell that can be rung when critiquing begins. This proves a way to gently remind participants to reward rather than discourage each others' thinking.

Have only one conversation at a time. To participate in a particular conversation, make a contribution by building on the ideas that others have set forth. After one conversation is finished, you can start a new topic.

Write out ideas and put a sequential number next to each. Numbering helps participants understand how productively their brainstorming is going, and helps people keep track when jumping back and forth between ideas.

 

Active and empathic listening are integral to IDEO's methodology for developing innovative products, the key components of which are:

  1. Understanding and observing potential users in action in the real world;
  2. Visualizing new solutions, particularly through brainstorming and prototyping;
  3. Evaluating prototypes by observing how people interact with them; and
  4. Implementing completed solutions.

The brainstorming session facilitators should sometimes solicit additional comments which focus the group on issues that are particularly interesting to the group and at other times they should suggest switching to a new idea, as energy and momentum about particular issues ebbs and flows.

Cover as much of the walls of the room as possible with writable surfaces like paper or whiteboards and have people write down major ideas. Later in the session, returning to the particular spots in the room where ideas were written as they were discussed will provide a "visual memory" that will help participants remember what was discussed.

Consider warm-up exercises before brainstorming, particularly if participants don't know each other, haven't brainstormed much, or are under a lot of pressure. Simple "pass-it-on" word games, or a homework assignment to get hands-on experience with products related to the brainstorming topic, are two warm-ups popular at IDEO. IDEO finds that the quantity and perceived quality of ideas improves when they do warm-ups first.

Use plenty of sketches, "mind-mapping," and diagrams, and don't be afraid to act-out or build crude mock-ups of what you are talking about on the spot to make the concepts more tangible and exciting for participants.

In addition to the ideas themselves, brainstorming is valuable because everyone gets a chance to be heard and acknowledged by the group!

 

*** This book is highly recommended by businessLISTENING.com for anyone interested in creating or improving upon compelling products and services. ***

Brainstorming Don'ts.

Don't let the boss speak first.
Don't insist that everyone take a turn.
Don't limit the discussion to the opinions of "experts"on any subject.
Don't brainstorm only during off-site retreats: effective brainstorming should become natural at work!
Don't outlaw silly ideas or penalize the people who bring them up.
Don't try to write everything down.

Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman, The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firm (Currency (Doubleday), 2001) (>Amazon.com).


This section was written by Bruce Wilson, an executive coach, trainer, and facilitator who has helped individual business people and organizations across the U.S. to improve their leadership, customer relationships, and teamwork. For more information about his work, or to get in touch with him, visit WilsonStrategies.com.


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