Brainstorming, IDEO Style

The problem with brainstorming is that everyone thinks they already do it.

IDEO, the award-winning design and development firm known around the world for their creative solutions to everyday problems, begs to differ.

In the book “The Art of Innovation,” IDEO general manager Tom Kelley shows how you can deliver more value, create more energy, and foster more innovation through better brainstorming.

Seven Secrets for Better Brainstorming

  • Sharpen the focus – good brainstormers start with a well-honed statement of the problem
  • Playful rules – don’t start to critique or debate ideas
  • Number your ideas – it’s a tool to motivate the participants and it’s a great way to jump back and forth between ideas without losing your place
  • Build and jump – try building on an idea by encouraging another push or introducing a small variation; or take a jump, either back to an earlier path or forward to a completely new idea
  • The space remembers – great brainstorm leaders understand the power of spatial memory. Use tools that allow you to write all ideas down, and as you move around the room, spatial memory will help people recapture the mind-set they had when the idea first emerged
  • Stretch your mental muscles – mental warm ups (word games, content-related homework, etc.) will help you get in shape for better brainstorming
  • Get physical – the best brainstormers often get physical; they bring in “props,” prototype designs with materials, and act out possible solutions

Got a problem that’s bugging you?

Find a suitable space, order some supplies, get a good group together, and brainstorm up several dozen possible solutions.


Innovation Begins with an Eye

What do stand-up toothpaste tubes, all-in-one fishing kits, high-tech blood analyzers, flexible office shelves, self-sealing sports bottles, and the Apple mouse have in common?

courtesy IDEO

courtesy IDEO

Only that they’re all products designed by the legendary firm IDEO; products inspired by watching real people.

As IDEO human factors expert Leon Segal says in “The Art of Innovation” -“Innovation begins with an eye.”

It’s not just about product design, either.Whether it’s art, science, technology, or business, inspiration often comes from being close to the action. Once you start observing carefully, all kinds of insights and opportunities can open up.

Here are a few IDEO practices you should think about:

  • No dumb questions – don’t think you know the answers without first asking the questions
  • Look through the child’s eye – literally, if you want to understand what they are seeing, touching, and feeling; figuratively, if you understand that the best designs embrace people’s differences
  • Inspiration by observation – open your eyes and you’ll be awakened to opportunities to improve things without leaving your office
  • Embrace your crazy user – good, insightful observation combines careful watching with well-chosen questions asked to get at the psychology of a person’s interactions
  • Finding rule breakers – you learn best when observing people who break the rules
  • People are human – sometimes we reduce personal interactions to numbers and statistics. Empathy is about rediscovering why you’re actually in business, whom you’re trying to serve, and what needs you are trying to fulfill.

Seeing and hearing things with your own eyes and ears is a critical first step in improving or creating a breakthrough in your organization.

Try it today!