Brainstorming sessions are usually a big waste of time—unless you know how to do it right. To truly inspire brilliant new ideas, leaders need to take a more disciplined approach.
Bryan Mattimore, brainstorming expert and author of Idea Stormers: How To Lead And Inspire Creative Breakthroughs, has led brainstorming sessions for more than 300 companies and has witnessed firsthand what works and what doesn’t.
In his new book, Mattimore gives readers tips on how to come up with “a steady supply of fresh, relevant ideas.” There are seven key ways to come up with big ideas, which he calls the “Super Seven”:
1. Question your assumptions.
When you can’t compete against your main competitor because it owns too much of the market or has a much bigger budget than yours, you need to change the game. And to change the game, you need to question everything about it. Start by using these three simple steps.
- What is your creative challenge? Come up with questions that will help you discover what the true business challenge is. This is critical to the success of new product development ideation. For example, instead of saying, “How can we come up with the new iron?” ask, “How can we invent a new anti-wrinkle device?” The latter is your actual challenge.
- Name 20 to 30 assumptions about that creative challenge. For example, one assumption might be the target market of the anti-wrinkle device is women ages 25 to 49. Another might be that white is the best color for an anti-wrinkle device.
- Pick several of those assumptions, and use them as thought-starters and creative triggers to create new ideas. For example, your original assumption is that the target market is women between the ages of 25 and 49, but how can you create anti-wrinkle devices for people outside of this demographic?
2. Redefine the opportunity.
First, come up with an opportunity statement—for example, “How do we sell more insurance to people?” Then pick three of the most interesting words in the sentence and generate eight to 10 creative alternatives for those words. In this example, take the word sell and switch it with license, test-run or advertise. Instead of people, try churchgoers or gym-buffs.
Use the combination of new words to come up with new opportunities for your business.
“These crazy combination sentences are then used as starting points or brainstorming triggers to generate new selling ideas,” Mattimore writes.
3. Make a wish.
This technique is when you wish for something really big, then come up with solutions on what you’ll do to get there. First, have your team brainstorm 20 to 30 big dreams—encourage them to think really “out there.” Now, take several of the more fantastic or impossible wishes and use them as creative stimuli to generate novel but realistic ideas.
4. Employ “Semantic Intuition“.
This is a technique used for new product development that “prompts participants to create new ideas by having them combine several categories of keywords to create a name for a new idea—and this is before they have any concept of what this newly named idea is,” Mattimore writes in his book.
First, you think up three categories of words, then come up with as many words as possible from those categories. For example, if you’re trying to come up with a new store promotion for a detergent, think of different words for:
- places in the store
- kinds of promotional appeals
- benefits of the product.
Next, randomly combine these words together, one from each category, to create the name of a new idea.
5. Use visual prompts.
Visual techniques have a way of “bringing to the surface intuitions, emotions and feelings;” this technique is, therefore, good for personnel and management creative challenges, Mattimore says.
The facilitating leader passes out pre-selected visuals, then asks the participants for ideas that are inspired simply by looking at those visuals. For example, if you’re looking for a solution on how a leader can delegate better, bring different pictures of people interacting with one another. Have your team come up with solutions based on what they see in these pictures. Then ask them to share the scenario.
6. Come up with the worst ideas.
Get your team to collectively create a list of bad ideas—really terrible ideas. Then ask them to turn those ideas into decent, good, legal ideas.
“Find something of interest or value in a bad idea to inspire a good idea,” Mattimore writes.
7. Trigger brain-walking.
Take multiple techniques from this list and combine them with one another by using various cues to trigger different thoughts. The participants are asked to write their ideas down, then move on to another station and build upon that idea.