Developed by Alex Osborn, the brainstorming method was designed to separate idea generation from idea evaluation. It has the objective of moving people into a nurturing, supportive atmosphere of freewheeling thoughts. Ideas are stimulated through hearing others’ ideas. The emphasis is on quantity of ideas, using the philosophy that quantity produces quality.
Procedure for use:
William Miller suggests the following ground rules for effective brainstorming:
1. Pick a problem/opportunity where each person has the knowledge and motivation to contribute.
2. Define the problem in neutral terms rather than referencing a pre-selected solution. E.g., “How do we get this job done?” rather than “How do we get this person or this group to do this job?”
3. Record the ideas on flip charts or large pieces of paper where everyone can see them.
4. Suspend evaluation or judgment until all ideas have been given.
5. Stretch for ideas.
6. When you think you’ve got all the ideas, go for another round, being even more outrageous in possible solutions.
7. Aim for quantity to help find quality.
8. Accept all ideas, even weak ones.
9. Encourage embellishment and building on ideas.
Applied properly, this approach can free you from any unnecessary implicit assumptions that you are making about the challenges you face.
Procedure for use:
Generally, the steps to follow in applying the technique are as follows:
1. State the question, goal, situation, or problem.
2. Assume anything is possible.
3. Using fantasy, make statements such as: “What I really want to do is...” or “If I could choose any answer to this question, it would be ...”
4. Examine each fantasy and transpose it into your reality by making statements such as: “Although I really cannot do that, I can do this by...” or “It seems impractical to do that, but I believe we can accomplish the same thing by ...”
5. If necessary, repeat Steps 3 and 4.
Example for use:
1. How can I learn more about how customers use my product?
2. I can be any size or shape I want.
3. I will just step inside one of the products shipped today and peer out at my customer and observe how he or she uses the product.
4. Well, I don’t think I can change my size or shape, but I can get a customer’s agreement to let me observe my product under use at his or her facility and videotape employees at work using my product.
Play devil's advocate – take the exact opposite view of the one you have been holding.
If you are an optimist, think through the motivations of the pessimist.
Most of us tend to see situations through the flawed windows of our own nature. We are optimistic or pessimistic and do not really participate with others in understanding all aspects and connotations of a problem. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats can help a group or even a person understand all aspects of a problem. Each of us wears each hat in turn or persuades others to wear them. I’d like to state here that, while thinking, one should remove all barriers and obstacles. Thinking is the easiest way of testing a solution. Thinking through all possibilities can prevent major financial distress. But most people are as careful and timid with their thinking as they are with their actions, thus losing the possibility of nurturing creative ideas.
People feel busy and productive when engaged in activity, but can be busy doing work which may be non-productive. In my view, thinking should be the major activity of managers and progress lies in constantly striving through innovation to delight the customer.
A checklist generates ideas by taking a verb from the list and “checking” the item against certain aspects of the problem. The comprehensive list of verbs helps reduce the possibility that a solution might be overlooked. Example for use: A common problem in project management is a plan’s failure to meet the desired schedule, either at the initiation of the project or during the course of managing the project. Approaches to rearrange resources to meet the scheduled date of an information systems development project: Multiply Increase the number of personnel Increase the amount of project budget Increase the tool. Rearrange, eliminate some of the functionality of the system. Subdue simplifying the design Invert Prototype to test early instead of at the end. Separate critical from non-critical activities, unify and combine modules.
There are three elements involved in developing a creative atmosphere.
Very often we tend to use the first idea that emerges particularly if it is a good idea. That is why the enemy of a better idea is often a good idea. Very often, you develop a single minded infatuation with your idea, thus shutting the door to other ideas. Extended effort involves spending a lot of time or simply generating a number of options. You could give your group a target: go on generating multiple options until you reach 100. Focus should be on idea fluency. The internal ‘Censor Board’ takes a vacation. All ideas are simply recorded in an atmosphere of nuturing and appreciation.
Our parents, elders and significant people in our life start building up our internal ‘Censor Board’. Any idea that sounds foolish or even different from the norm is immediately shot down.
Suspended judgment involves putting a fence around a new, germinal idea to protect it from judgment, criticism or attack. A new idea is treated with respect, with as much tenderness as a sprouting seed. This ensures a climate where the idea can be recorded and perhaps developed. Edward De Bono’s ‘PO” and the Synectics ‘Springboard’ provide a protective shield for new ideas.
The temptation to react quickly and sharply to an idea often prevents new ideas from emerging. Immediate reactions are often knee jerk reactions characterized by strong emotions like anger and aggression. These emotions prevent clear thinking. Locked into the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, the body shuts down all functions except those necessary for survival. All parts of the brain except those necessary for survival are shut down. These parts are those we share with dinosaurs – the primitive brain. The higher levels of thinking, reasoning and creativity are temporarily shut down. So an angry, disturbed man cannot think very clearly. Providing a “safe place” for ideas to be shared without attack, results in a nursery of germinal new ideas.
Managing cross-functional teams is one of the challenges of new product development, yet how members from different functional areas come together, interact, and arrive at consensus is a poorly-understood process. After a pilot study, the authors conducted interviews with 40 managers (representing all the key functions) from 10 different firms to better understand the human interactions across the functional area.
Three major finding emerged from the study. First, the relative participation and contribution of production groups were significantly less than that of other groups. The R&D groups tended to have the highest participation and contribution and in a sense “owned” the new product activities. Marketing performs relatively more tasks, yet participates less in new product decision making.
Second, participation and contribution were related. That is, when participation of a functional group was low, so was its contribution. To create a sense of ownership and get the best contribution, it is important to get early participation and to allow all members of the team to analyze the new product opportunity.
Third, cross-functional cooperation was weak in most of the firms studied. Importantly, efforts designed to increase a functional group’s participation in new product decision making may result in that group performing more tasks, but not necessarily increasing its cooperation with other groups.
These finding suggest several human interaction issues. Because of the apparent ownership of new product activities by R&D, this group may be less excited about cooperating with other, and indeed other groups are more likely to be asked to cooperate with R&D. R&D may believe that new product pursuits do not concern other groups such as production. As a related point, R&D may be more concerned about serving the needs of future customers, while production’s concern may be more about current customers.
The author found that the contributions of marketing and production were most likely to increase as a result of specific senior management activities, in particular (1) pressuring R&D groups into sharing control, and (2) forming cross-functional teams to manage new product decisions and work flows. In the forms where cooperation was poor, there were little or no efforts designed to promote collaboration among the groups.
A manager holds up his hand and comments: I’m not sure I want my people to be more creative; they have trouble getting their work done on time and within budget as it is”
Many of us are led to believe that creativity is costly. For example, we hear about the costs of some project such as Gillette’s 21 – part razor. It was introduced during the 1989 Super Bowl (one I prefer to forget, since my Denver Bronco team was demolished by the New York Giants). Super Bowl advertising is the most expensive in television, so Gillette spared no expenses to introduce their new product. The company spent more than $100 million in developing the product and over $150 million to advertise it. Nor is the 21 – part razor a very profound invention! The implication is that most products require this kind of investment, causing managers to question the viability of embarking on creativity improvement program. Yet, a profound invention – the CAT scanner – cost less than $15000 to develop. Creativity need not be expensive. Creativity is highly cost-effective.
I believe that while creativity is something that is intrinsic to all humans and can be “triggered off” in a variety of ways, innovation requires that companies consciously create conditions where strategic, organizational issues are creatively resolved through the involvement of people. In my opinions there are three essential conditions that can stimulate innovation in organizations, and these are:
• A culture that empowers people
• Recognition of innovative thinking, and
• Prevalence of outstanding leadership
Too often, however, companies are unable to elicit the involvement of their people, because there has been no conscious effort to share the “larger” picture with everybody. Commitment, which many corporate leaders claim is lacking amongst today’s employees, is directly related to the extent of sharing of information and to the extent of trust that is created thereby.
A formal system of recognition and public encouragement for innovative thinking goes a long way in communicating what the company expects from its members.
Cutting edge technologies were considered among the most important areas for ensuring success of the company. Merely incorporating cutting edge technology can make or mar a whole industry. When the flourishing textile mills of Coimbatore failed to keep pace with the cutting edge technologies adopted by the Japanese, the whole industry went into doldrums. Conversely, when Tirupur technocrats decided to incorporate world class spinning technology, this small town in Tamil Nadu found a place with world class facility for spun knit wear.
Incorporating the customer’s voice into a product is one of the most important methods of ensuring market led innovation. Often the companies assume they know what customers want. But fashions change and so do customer tastes. Nestle, found in the 80’s that their market share for chocolates was plummeting. They conducted a TCC or Tapping Customer Creativity, that is, when customers (school children) and officials of the company, learned tools of innovation in a non-threatening atmosphere and explored the field. It was found that modern children did not like chocolates which were too sweet. They also wanted some health benefits from the chocolate. The result of incorporating these suggestions is history – Nestle made a dazzling comeback with chocolates that were less sweet and were garnished with biscuits and nuts.
In the past, traditional, Indian managements maintained a shroud of secrecy regarding the company’s achievements, particularly its financial performance. Today it is well established that informed participants are better than unwilling victims sacrificed for the company’s profits. Sharing knowledge and profits have gone a long way in achieving better performance. Many companies have introduced performance based incentives as a key component of their salaries.
Many managements are involved in fire fighting and solving urgent matters which have developed into crisis situations. Time needs to be set apart to study alternative solutions to the banks of problems that lie under the surface of a running organization, constantly fighting for time. Don’t fix it, if it aint broke’, say the Americans, meaning do not change, if it is working well. This is disastrous advice in the present context of rapid change. Alternatives have, necessarily to be developed when things are going well. Status quo is the gateway to overnight obsolescence. Innovation should be planned when things are going well. When things are going badly, when survival itself is an issue, no one has the time or energy to look for alternatives.
I believe that while creativity is something that is intrinsic to all humans and can be triggered off in a variety of ways, innovation requires that companies consciously create conditions where strategic and organisational issues are creatively resolved through the involvement of people. In my opinion, there are three essential conditions that can stimulate innovation in organisations. They are:
a) A culture that empowers people.
b) Recognition for innovative thinking.
c) Prevalence of outstanding leadership.
Too often, however, companies are unable to elicit the involvement of their people because there has been no conscious effort to share the 'larger picture' with everybody. Commitment, which most industrial leaders claim is lacking amongst today's employees, is directly related to the extent of sharing information and to the extent of trust that is created thereby.
A formal system of recognition and public encouragement for innovative thinking, goes a long way in communicating what the company expects from its members.
Organisations that demonstrate high levels of innovation are those that share belief that things can always be made better than they are today.
Normally in organisations, services and in production, the person who is not that creative but is a team man is a better person than the other. Of course if you have a very creative person who is also a team man, you get the best of both the worlds!
To us, innovation is at the heart of what it takes corporations to create and sustain leadership. It has far more to do with continually challenging the status - quo and pushing for corporate self renewal, than it has to do with creativity and ingenuity.
I watched 'Coco' a movie about the great fashion designer Coco Chanel. When the whole world of glamorous women wore jewels and silks and colours to fussy excess, she created the little black dress - a total minimalist contrast to the current trend. A way of dressing that said clearly - "Less is more!" Perhaps the total lack of resources she experienced in her childhood in an orphanage, made her use adversity to make a style statement, which she used to telling effect what little she had. Innovation is often born of adversity. That is why India with over 250 million middle class people , has the opportunity to create minimalist, inexpensive designs for the world.
Innovation is about doing things differently. The surfire method is to think about the exact opposite of what everyone is doing. As VP Marketing, Apollo Hospitals group,I noticed that hospitals used to be a place for the sick. We turned it upside down and made Apollo a place for wellness with a multitude of check-ups. People worldwide who were well came to remain well, making it a household brand.
"If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it." - Albert Einstein
The greatest competitive advantage comes from out-innovating the competition. Innovation is the ultimate human resource, which can ensure the competitive advantage of any organization. It is the use of creative thinking tools that can provide the competitive edge required for India to face the challenge of globalization.
Creativity may become our only tool for survival. The only way to achieve good performance in bad times is through innovation, using creative ideas in business. Limited resources fuel innovation and corporate transformation.
Most successful Indian companies believe that creativity and innovation provide the competitive edge required for growth and profitability. However, very few have clear innovation policies and initiatives.
Dr. Rekha Shetty is Managing Director of Farstar Distribution Network, a unique consultancy company devoted exclusively to innovation and creativity under the brand name Mindspower.She is an author, an entrepreneur and an original thinker. Her long term Innovation Initiative, using 47 thinking tools helps in a steep increase in profits, reduction in costs, while improving customer satisfaction levels and employee participation levels. She is a consultant to ICICI Bank, Ashok Leyland Ltd., Hyundai Motors Ltd., TVS Group, TI Group, Durgapur Steel Plant, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. and other blue chip companies.
In her very first assignment in United India Insurance, she developed a nationally acclaimed advertising campaign. During the last seventeen years, she has specialized in the field of Creativity in Management and developed her own management brand, Mindspower. She was one of Asia’s first women District Governors for Rotary International and was awarded Rotary’s highest Award – Service above Self.
Her fourth book “Innovate! 90 Days to Transform your Business” is under print and will be released by Penguin during May 2010.