Good brainstorming sessions can suggest creative ways through intractable problems. But “just sitting around and thinking” often doesn’t cut it. That’s why I’m going to list methods for Brainstorming. Tons of methods.
Consider this a brainstorming exercise on the different types of brainstorming exercises. I'll list all the ones I can think of, from the rigorous to the fanciful, and you can pick the ones that sound appealing.
- The basic: Just sit down and write down or call out any ideas you can, alone or in groups. Don't stifle any ideas during this brainstorming, evaluate later. Don't shoot down ideas as a bad one can suggest a good one later
- Reversals: imagine trying to make your problem or product worse, what would you do? That may indirectly show you an unexpected way to make it better.
- Reversals 2: try to solve the problem from the opposite direction e.g. in pest control, attract the mice outside the home instead of catching them inside it
- Combinations: mash up two previous solutions you brainstormed,or combine several ideas into one solution. Some people like to use Sticky notes: write words on the stickies and then and play with their order. Arrange/combine into bigger ideas
- Combinations 2: Try to combine seemingly unrelated ideas. (ex: How can we relate our business, Corn Flakes, to this new interest in enivornmentally sustainable living?)
- Random word look-up/random articles in related magazine: pick something at random and force the word or article to connect SOMEHOW. (You look up the word fish hook? Let's tempt the customer to visit our sales presentation with gourmet seafood...)
- Do a stream of consciousness: think about the problem and continuously write or record your thoughts
- Make sketches of different ideas. Do the sketches in a way that gives you the most fluidity/flexibility (for me that would be pencil on paper, or maybe MS Visio)
- Objective Trees (pdf file)
- Ishikawa diagram (a.k.a. Cause and Effect Diagram, Fishbone, Fish Diagram): Pick an effect to discuss (the head), either a problem or desired goal. Then, categories of main causes with specific sub-causes and maybe sub-sub's are the bones. Use the question "what are the X causing effect" or "Why is this happening? What is X doing?" Suggestions I have read for what to consider in your Ishikawa include:
- The 4 M’s: Methods, Machines, Materials, Manpower
- The 6 M's: Machine, Method, Materials, Maintenance, Man and Mother Nature (Environment) -- recommended for the manufacturing industry. (Note: even more categories to consider in manufacturing include Equipment, Process, People, Materials, Environment, and Management).
- The 8 P's: Price, Promotion, People, Processes, Place / Plant, Policies, Procedures, and Product (or Service) -- recommended for the administration and service industries.
- The 4 S's: Surroundings, Suppliers, Systems, Skills -- recommended for the service industry.
- Mind-mapping: draw a spider-web diagram with connecting lines to ideas/topics/issues
- Use fortune telling/divination methods to get an idea
- TRIZ: determine contradicting priorities in your design, and use the 40 inventive principles to resolve creatively
- Perform a Patent Search to get ideas, see what was done before, what you can NOT do because it's still under patent protection. Most countries have patents freely searchable online. For the U.S. patents, I suggest http://patft.uspto.gov/ and then use http://www.pat2pdf.org/ to make PDFs when you have the patent number of a patent you want to save
- For puzzling technical issues, read the FAQs of related design programs. The FAQs may warn you of mistakes or offer helpful advice (ex: hydraulic software error debugging, Aspentech Support)
- Biomimetrics: Look to nature for an evolved solution to problems similar to your own; look to nature for new product ideas
- Open Source: get ideas from the public, hold company-wide brainstorming that all levels of employee can participate in, get ideas from outside the company, try internet discussion forums, ask your customers
- Examine similar projects that you know of that tackled your problem
- Benchmark against different industries, not just your competitors. Ex: If you want to improve customer service, look at the best-in-class companies of ANY industry for novel ideas to adapt
- Role-play: how might someone else view this problem or solve it? (Your customers, your competitors, a famous person from history, "what kind of product name would Madonna pick?", etc.)
- Talk to vendors
- Talk to mentors/allies/family/friends, including people outside your industry
- Hire consultants
- Try to gather new data to analyze, or analyze it a different way. Maybe a different visualization
- Use a journal (written or typed) to ask your subconscious: ask questions, blank your mind, and write whatever comes unbidden to say. Sometimes it’s better to first ask yourself, and then write down, how you got into this situation, and then what you should do about it. Alternative: ask yourself the question, blank your mind, and then try to visualize possible solutions
Also, here are some ideas to help you choose between options or refine options:
- Quality Function Deployment (QFD)
- Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
- Weighted Decision Matrix (WDM): make a table of factors that are important, and a numeric value or "weight" of the importance of each factor. Then for each option, give a number, the higher the better that option embodies or satisfies the factor. Multiple weight x option's number, sum, and the result with the highest total wins.
- Technology Decision Matrix: This is a WDM, but also includes a separate list of technical facts about the different options
My personal favorites? Reversals and TRIZ are sometimes useless but occasionally great for dealing with specific problems. Mind mapping is a good place to start for problems you can take in a lot of directions, I often use it if I have to give a presentation on a topic and am not sure what to focus on. Weighted decision matrices are great for trying to impose some rigor on a group evaluating options, and helps focus discussions, even if in the end the weights and values assigned are semi-arbitrary.