Personally, I don’t think much of brainstorming. A group of people sitting around throwing out random ideas are none the wiser after an hour than before they started. And studies confirm it! An experiment at Utrecht University has shown that teams produce up to 50% fewer ideas than when they think about a problem alone. Nevertheless, brainstorming remains one of the most popular methods for coming up with new ideas at the office. Here are four other creative techniques that really do help people to come up with the best solutions.
See the negative side too
Sometimes, it can be helpful to look at things from the other side – that is, don’t look for solutions but for problems. What would the worst case scenario look like? What are the obstacles and difficulties that you might encounter on the way to completion? What are the weaknesses of the project? By looking at the potential negatives, you can decide on effective measures to counteract them and achieve your goal.
The SCAMPER method
The SCAMPER method is one of nearly 160 creativity techniques that Bernhard Wolff suggests in his book “Titel bitte selbst ausdenken: 157,5 erfolgreiche Ideenbeschleuniger” (Please think of the title yourself: 157.5 successful idea accelerators). Each individual letter is a way of thinking differently about things, according to Wolff. By slightly modifying facts, it is possible to review the potential success of possible solutions. This method is good for those who like to take a systematic approach to troubleshooting.
S – Substitute: replace a component, a material or a person.
C – Combine: combine something with other objects or functions.
A – Adapt: adapt the thing to new circumstances, change its function.
M – Modify: vary size, structure, colour, feel, acoustics.
P – Put to another use: identify new uses.
E – Eliminate: remove something or simplify it.
R – Reverse: change the direction, into its opposite.
The Idea Marathon
This method was developed in the ‘80s by the Japanese businessman, Takeo Higuchi. This works by considering ideas according to specific rules over a longer period of time, in a kind of idea diary. Those rules are as follows:
- Record at least one new idea per day.
- Write down each idea as quickly and concisely as possible.
- Write down ideas at any time (for example, use your smartphone).
- Talk about it with family, friends or colleagues to build upon those ideas.
- Use a solid system for recording the ideas (numbers, dates, categorisation etc.).
- Work on those ideas.
- Work on your Idea Marathon everyday.
‘Brainwriting’ instead of ‘Brainstorming’
Those who would prefer to continue relying on group brainstorming could change to ‘brainwriting’ instead. Instead of submitting ideas vocally, initial ideas can be written down and later discussed within the group. The advantage of this is that you won’t be influenced by other people’s ideas and proposals can be made by those who don’t often speak up in meetings.
Of course, this is just a small selection from hundreds of creative techniques that are now available. Everyone probably has their own unique method that works best for them. If you have discovered a winning formula for encouraging bursts of creativity, write to me at email@example.com.