Why brainstorming is outdated

We come across terms like think tank, creativity workshop and idea sprint more often these days. As the names suggest, they are used to systematically generate ideas on a specific question or problem. The best known and generally simplest method of the think tank has been brainstorming for years.

Spontaneous ideas are collected on Post-Its and randomly strung together using associations. What usually emerges are well-known and already conceived ideas – no trace of really creative ideas. There is neither a common thread in the implementation that specifies the type of new ideas, nor does the brainstorming give targeted, creative impulses that promote innovative associations.

Furthermore, people tend to subconsciously combine their ideas with those already mentioned in order to generate consensus. This happens quite subconsciously and is called “framing”. In addition, if extroverts and introverts work together, extroverts usually speak up more and dominate in meetings.

However, this method is still used by many companies today to generate ideas. Reasons for this are its popularity on the one hand and its simplicity and the lack of alternatives on the other. Apart from this, companies use the mind mapping method. This gives clear directions through its structure-dependent approach, but here too, new, fruitful associations depend on the creativity of the user.

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In recent years in particular, new alternatives have emerged from the areas of design and IT that try to combine the weaknesses with the strengths of brainstorming. There are intuitive and discursive methods:

Intuitive methods deliver a multitude of ideas in a short time

The approach of intuitive methods is based on multiple and unconscious thought processes. The attempt is made to stimulate new solutions through various activations. These methods especially help with so-called operational blindness and encourage “thinking outside the box”. The choice of methods is quite large and can be adapted for each application.

A quiet method among the intuitive creativity techniques is the 6-3-5 method – here the first step is to define the problem. Six participants receive a form and submit three ideas for the solution within five minutes. When the time has passed, the sheet is passed on to the next participant in the group. Each participant then has another five minutes to take up the three existing ideas, change them and, ideally, write down three new ideas. The sheet is then passed on again until all lines are filled. It is forbidden to speak to each other during the session.

In this way, up to 108 ideas are generated in 30 minutes. Introverts can also make an efficient contribution here. The 6-3-5 method is particularly suitable for problems with low to medium complexity.

A loud method is the headstand technique – it is often easier to criticize something than to generate solutions. The headstand technique aims to take up this phenomenon and to create a solution by reversing the actual question. Thus, the problem: “What do we have to do to generate good ideas” can be rephrased into the following headstand question: “What do we have to do to generate bad ideas”.

It is important to reformulate the question in itself and not just add negations such as “not” or “none”. This exercise is a playful method, especially for inexperienced participants in dealing with creativity techniques.

Discursive methods look at a problem holistically

Discursive methods consider a problem holistically by abstracting it analytically and dividing it into small sub-problems. The goal is to solve the actual main problem by solving individual small problems.

The Morphological Analysis is a method that breaks problems gradually into parts, isolate the parts whose contributions are critical to the output and tries to develop several solutions for each problem. These solutions are recorded in a table. In the second step, only the solutions to the individual sub-problems are combined with one another. This results in a solution concept for every combination. It is important that all partial solutions to a problem can be used independently from one another.

The advantage of the morphological analysis is that all possible solution combinations can be systematically thought through. This reduces the chance that previously disregarded solutions will go unnoticed.

Progressive Abstraction – This method can mainly help in defining a problem by systematically analyzing and uncovering its core. The goal is to give all participants a better understanding of the problem, which significantly influences the solution ideas based on it. This is achieved by questioning every problem to its core. This is repeated until the level of abstraction of the problem is sufficient for the group.

What needs to be changed?

Well-established methods such as brainstorming or mind mapping continue to exist. Whether the method is effective or not, however, depends on the context used. The number of creativity techniques is huge. The right method for the corresponding problem can tear down mental walls, while with a wrong selection you end up where you were before the brainstorming.

Fabian Pilz, Innovation and Project Manager at ZWEIDENKER

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Tags: 6-3-5-method, Brainstorming, creativity techniques, design thinking, headstand technique, Innovation Consulting