The business practice of brainstorming has been around with us so long that it seems like unadorned common sense: If you want a rash of new ideas, you get a group of people in a room, have them shout things out, and make sure not to criticize, because that sort of self-censoring is sure to kill the flow of new thoughts.
I have been part of conference room brainstorming sessions and rarely has anything of much consequence come from them. Executives get to feel that everybody was included, but nothing REALLY get’s done. Some blowhard IT guy shoots down half of them for “security reasons” and the other half tend to be thinly veiled innuendo.
I tend to have my best thoughts while shaving. Something about the repetitive low concentration act that fills the space normally filled with the hub-bub of daily stress and worry. Those loud barking rooms filled to the brim with ego and political maneuvering aren’t the best place for a breakthrough solution.
Solutions only flow when the problem becomes interesting enough to demand new ideas.
The article then continues to propose that brainstorming could be re-imagined as a way to define the real problem. I was in a meeting working through some UI wireframes and the discussion went around and around until we had completely changed what the application was to do. We examined some user data and talked about all the current problems with the system, and realized we needed to build a hammer not a bandsaw.
Let’s say, for example, you’re trying to invent a new computer UI. It’s much more productive to find what drives people nuts and the features that keep them from doing what they want to do than it is to find out what sort of computer they’d like to have in some idealized fantasy world.
I think the initial brainstorming sessions are a great place to get a list of problems. Call it geo-centric market research, or something like that.