By Scott Brady, Research, Development & Engineering Manager

I’m sure all of you have heard of and participated in brain storming (aka brain draining or mind dumping) events.  When it’s time to come up with new ideas for something, brain storming is a common/popular approach.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but brainstorming is quite possibly, one of the worst methods of creating good ideas.  You will come up with a list of lots of shallow ideas, but probably not the meaningfully unique idea you are looking for to drive your business to the next level.

Innovation guru Doug Hall has developed the following formula for meaningfully unique ideas:

With brainstorming, you do get Diversity, but no Stimulus and the Fear factor is high.

People use their whole brain, but most people tend to either be predominantly left or right brained.  Left brainers are more logical, right brainers more free-thinking.  Approximately 70% of people are left-brained.  Tossing a bunch of left brainers into a free-wheeling session shouting out spontaneous ideas just isn’t going to get you the results you are seeking.

Fear of humiliation causes brain freeze and drives down the good ideas.

Studies have proven that individual ideation beats group brainstorming in both the quantity and quality of ideas.  However, one person probably doesn’t have all the knowledge required to finalize the concept, so they need to share it with a partner to help build on the idea.  They then can present it to a group to gain further insight, diversity, and to drive out fear.

An example of this here at PRIER was the development of the Brick Buddy.  The Brick Buddy solves the problem for plumbers who are going to be installing a hydrant through a masonry wall.  It reserves the spot where the hydrant is going to be placed.  The masonry wall is built around it so the plumber doesn’t have to come back and drill a hole through the wall saving considerable time and effort.

One engineer at PRIER came up with a good concept for how to make the distance the Brick Buddy protrudes from the house adjustable depths using only 2 parts.  He shared the concept with another engineer who helped him refine the locking mechanism and cut the amount of material used in half.  Together, they worked with people from other departments to provide further enhancements.  For example, Sales asked if it could be made to work with any hydrant on the market, not just PRIER’s.  A third engineer figured out how to make the mounting screw locations adjustable for all hydrants.  The whole company was involved in a “name that product” contest.  The winner was our CFO, Cindy Coats.

Diversity means working with people that are different than you, maybe even people who disagree with you.  Diversity multiplies the impact of Stimulus, that’s why Stimulus is taken to the power of Diversity in the Meaningfully Unique equation above.  As the famous management consultant, Tom Peters,  once said, “If there are 10 people in a room and all 10 agree on everything, then 9 of you are a cost savings opportunity.”

Stimulus interacts with, feeds and sparks the brain.  It comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavors.  People respond differently to different types of stimulus.  Left brainers prefer a more structured approach whereas right brainers perform better with more chaotic methods.

More stimulus leads to more and better ideas.  At their most basic level, ideas are feats of association.  Many different methods and tools are available to stimulate unique ideas depending on the types of the individuals involved; however, that will have to be the topic of a future blog.