Brainsteering Better Than Brainstorming

I’ve been teaching about and leading brainstorming sessions for more than 25 years. This is the best way to get fantastic new ideas, right?

According to the authors of Brainsteering: A Better Approach to Breakthrough Ideas, brainstorming doesn’t deliver what everyone thinks it does. They argue that brainstorming produces a lot of ideas that aren’t all that great because:

  • The process is too random.
  • There’s no way to really drill down into the most promising ideas.
  • People come with their pet ideas.
  • Powerful people and loud mouths dominate the conversations.

Instead, they suggest a process that starts with asking the right question(s). Give a small group of people time to adequately discuss the questions, and then let the actionable ideas flow from that discussion.

New leader training and coaching

After reading the book, here’s my understanding of how it works.

  1. Figure out what the real problem is that needs solving.
  2. Determine the criteria that will be applied when evaluating ideas.
  3. Select the right questions that will lead the group to some productive ideas.
  4. Choose the right people to participate in your brainsteering workshop.
  5. Pre-assign people to small groups of 3-5.
  6. Assign each group one question.
  7. Let them chew on it for 30-45 minutes.
  8. Ask small groups to offer only their best and most viable ideas.
  9. Collect all ideas and pass along to decision makers who will either reject, implement now, implement later, or give it more study.
  10. Communicate decisions back to the groups.

Since the whole process hinges on really great questions, here are five areas of inquiry that often produce these kinds of questions.

  1. Identifying unsolved customer problems.
  2. De-averaging users and activities.
  3. Exploring unexpected successes.
  4. Imagining perfection.
  5. Discovering unrecognized “headroom.” Challenging the rules we assume must be followed.

Some of my favorite right questions that the authors offered included the following:

  • Who needs only a small subset of our total product/service?
  • What would we do differently if we could trust our customers not to cheat us?
  • What distinguishes our top five referral sources from the bottom five?
  • What activities might our customers prefer to do themselves if they could?

Want to try this out the next time you are going to pull a group together for purpose of generating new ideas? Contact us, and we’ll combine our facilitation skills with this process to create a great session for you.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce helps companies change by creating stronger teams, more effective leaders, and better processes. To discuss a challenge you're facing, use this link to schedule a free discovery call.