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Brainstorms that work

Most ideas come from connections, rather than a sudden stroke of inspiration.

Watch the following video by Stephen Johnson:

His research shows that ideas can be generated from:

  • something you’ve been mulling for a while
  • what others are doing that can be adapted for your problem
  • a new use of an existing technology or practice
  • talking to people and making new connections
  • new technologies that make new ideas possible
  • experimentation, even failed experiments

Brainstorms have to unlock these patterns to find creative ideas. They should include a small number or people with different experiences and viewpoints. They should be fast, snappy, and fun. You need a well framed question that elicits actions not answers, for example: how can we create easy-to-prepare meat products for single people?

Brainstorms can help to reveal possibilities, but breakthrough ideas often come later, upon reflection – so it’s important to leave time to reflect and follow up.

It is critical that you organise a follow up and give feedback on progress of ideas generated during a brainstorm.

To unlock the patterns and stimulate new ideas, try these techniques:

  • Set a target for a specific number of ideas within a time limit (e.g., 30 ideas in three minutes). It will stretch your imagination and you’ll come up with less obvious ideas, maybe those that are in your subconscious.
  • Take different perspectives. For example, answer through the eyes of your customer, your manager, a child, Bill Gates, a religious leader.
  • Put the problem in a different context. For example, how would you solve the problem in the health industry, the fashion industry, transport and logistics, a church.
  • Ask people to individually write down ideas, then share with one other and then share with a group. This will overcome groupthink and ensure that every voice is heard.

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