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Quit brainstorming, start problem-solving

14 June, 2017

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Date of Publication: 14 June, 2017
Brainstorming was popularised by author Alex Faickney Osborn as part of a wider set of tools for problem solving. What happened in the subsequent years was that all the other parts of the creative process proposed by Osborn have somehow faded away from public consciousness - leaving only the unstructured practice of gathering a group of people in a meeting room and have them share ideas, in the hope of something innovative to come out. The common results are usually the opposite: groupthink, safe decisions, and lots of personality-driven choices. How to change that?

Involve people from different backgrounds

Hold an executive meeting and you’ll likely get a lot of high-level thinking, with no immediately actionable steps. Involve just the creatives and expect bold solutions ready to be later crashed by technical infeasibilities. Depending on company culture, a session with all the engineers will produce either the safer possible innovation or a wild product that does lots of things, none of them exactly spot-on.
You get the point: a multi-faceted problem needs a diverse group of minds to be properly tackled.


Use all the data you can gather

Leverage all these different people by collecting information from their unique point of views: business scenarios, creative benchmarks, sales numbers, competitor analysis, imminent technology breakouts.
This will provide unexpected insights and a proper framing. Because understanding the problem is key to fixing it.


Fall in love with the problem

You’re not looking for “Aha!” moments. Relying on inspiration-driven solutions could cost millions if your fancy idea turns out not solving the real issue. You’ve got to know your problem well, and that requires method, more than unstructured creativity.


Allow time for solitary reflection

Research shows how truly breakthrough ideas come up when the mind is by itself, reflecting upon all the data it collected. You should therefore require that the group members work separately and come to the next meeting with some solid work done.


Prototype, test, prototype again

Another sure way to waste time and money is to work on a complex solution for a long time, then ship it - only to discover that its many issues will take further time and money to be solved.

You’d better do what designers do: build a prototype, test it, see what’s good and what’s not, redesign, retest, repeat. This applies to physical products and business ideas alike - and your test ground can be the market itself.


Today, you’ll hear a lot about “design thinking”, which is just a newer and shinier buzzword than “brainstorming”. No matter how you call it, just remember your goal: solving problems.

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