Invention and Innovation

10 tips for a brainstorming renaissance

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By Riyon Harding, IBM Executive IP Strategist

Have your invention brainstorming sessions been more like light breezes? Here are some tips to get them roaring again.

  1. If your team has consisted of the same people try adding someone from a completely different organization e.g. finance, HR, facilities, manufacturing, corporate, etc. Also try inviting people in the same organization but new to the group – perhaps a new hire or intern with fresh perspective.
  2. Try a different location. Often a change of scenery can help inspire new ideas. Perhaps a convention center, hotel, resort, local restaurant or even being outdoors on a nice day. Be careful to avoid public places if you are working on confidential processes or products. Renting a closed meeting room at an off-site location for the day might be ideal in that case.
  3. Ask people to break out of their element. Sometimes a drawing or musical exercise can put people in the “right brain”, which stimulates creativity. For those who are already artists, ask them to draw the object by looking into a mirror and not at the object itself. Hand-held mirrors from a retail store work well. If they are already musically inclined have them compose a piece without sound.
  4. Bring visual stimulus. Asking people to apply a concept or function from something such as a picture or object can help change the thinking pattern. For example, a picture of bees in a honeycomb can generate ideas around new geometric shapes, new forms of communication, relationships, job functions, sticky substances, formulations from wax, etc. The bird that bobs its head into a glass of water is always a good brain teaser as well.
  5. Tactile stimulus is another good technique for applying physical concepts to problems to create new solutions. Toys that use magnets, oil and water, gooey substances, pins, LEDs, gravity, sand, etc. help to make different neural connections and pathways.
  6. Move backwards and forwards in time. Look at how something was done 30-40 years ago. Think about the problems with those solutions and the technologies that enabled the subsequent solutions to those problems. Look at the current solution and the new problems with it. What new technologies or processes today can be applied to solve those solutions? Wireless, touch screens, apps, digital imaging, voice recognition, big data analytics, cloud, the Internet of things, smaller form factors, integration of many functions, gluten-free, etc. Look at where the technology is thought to be headed and try to anticipate what things will look like/be like when we get there.
  7. Fun colored paper, pencils, markers, glitter pens, stickers and other note-taking implements can also shake people loose from the normal white board or flip-chart means of taking notes. If you’re really stuck try finger painting!
  8. Give people time to think in a quiet environment as well as talking in a group. Different people have different ways of coming up with solutions so giving everyone a chance to be in his or her element will provide better results. Try to generally keep your groups under 6 people, but consider breakout sessions to allow more intimate interaction of 2-3 participants. Sometimes people are more willing to share new (crazy?) ideas in a smaller group.
  9. Keep every idea that was generated. Schedule time to revisit them periodically. You never know when a crazy idea today may become the next big hit in the future.
  10. Bring food! If you bring it, they will come. Some people seem to be more at ease around food and nourishment. Even candy dishes on the tables or around the room can make it a more inviting environment that brings about a little added excitement – just beware of sugar highs!
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