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Stimulating ideas

Techniques for activating internal sources of ideas: individual suggestions; suggestion boxes; special funding; customer visits; free time; personnel/job rotation; (company) think tanks; start-ups/part ownership.

Example: Think tanks

Where do all the good ideas go? Some ideas are truly great, but perhaps for some the timing was wrong; others were not linked closely enough to the concepts or the strategy; for others the resources were simply not available. However, these ideas might actually be the ones that you will need soon.

Without a method of documenting and saving them they will probably be lost once they have been rejected. If you don't already have one, seriously consider establishing a think tank (ideas bank), where you store all the ideas that occur to you. One appropriate way may be to have a form that you fill out for each idea that comes up. In this way, a first review before the document ends up in the bank will give you an opportunity to think the idea through a little further.

Furthermore, it is important not to only store ideas, but to establish a system that enables you to quickly find old ideas according to specific criteria and to retrieve them frequently.

In practice, these suggested schemes often fail, unfortunately. The reason for failure may lie in the use of a poor screening system, a lack of motivation or feedback, a negative attitude towards the ideas of others, or even a 'not invented here' syndrome.

Introducing a popular creativity technique: brainstorming

Brainstorming is a tool used to generate a great number of ideas and solutions to a problem. It is used when you need a large and unbiased selection of ideas to continue working on.

Brainstorming is a structured process for the creation of ideas. The method was developed in the 1930s by Alex Osborn, the manager of an advertising agency in the US. He noticed that new ideas were often opposed and destroyed, particularly during meetings. This was particularly noticeable if the ideas were undeveloped or their originators held lower hierarchical positions. He decided to find a way to get around the group's tendency to oppose new ideas and release people's creativity. The great paradox is that in order to succeed and be truly creative with brainstorming, you need to follow the rules - to the letter!

You should therefore copy the 'Ten Commandments' of brainstorming and ensure that all participants are aware of them. The facilitator can have an old-fashioned car horn to sound in case anyone violates the commandments. If you are the facilitator, you might want to study the part of the introduction that deals with your role before the brainstorming session begins. If you are the boss, bear in mind that it might be better if someone else takes charge of the brainstorming session.

This is how it works. Put a group together and ensure that the room you will use is equipped with a flipchart or whiteboard and coloured markers. The problem should be presented to the group in a brief and superficial manner. It is important to interrupt any speculations on causal connections before the session begins.

Phrase the issue as an unambiguous question and write it on the whiteboard. It is important to use a whiteboard or flipchart, as positive effects are generated when the participants can clearly see both the question and the proposed solutions. Accordingly, when brainstorming, do not sit around a table with individual notepads for each participant. All participants should throw in any ideas and associations they can think of and the facilitator or secretary should take notes of everything said. Remember to combine ideas and continue the development of those that have already been written down. The ideas are shared and belong to the entire group. When the ideas seem to wane, it is time to move on and structure them, for example in the form of mind maps or tree diagrams.

The 'Ten Commandments' of brainstorming:

  1. Help the facilitator by knowing these commandments yourself.
  2. You should not evaluate anything. Do not even comment during a brainstorming session.
  3. Never say: 'That's not possible, it's not how we usually do things here.'
  4. Don't put your hand up. No one should ask for permission to speak.
  5. Call out your ideas openly. The more ideas, the better.
  6. Feel free to laugh at ideas, heartily and in an encouraging way. The wilder the idea, the better.
  7. Don't be afraid of silence. There are always moments of reflection in brainstorming sessions.
  8. Abandon your usual habits. The best ideas can be found in an entirely new perspective.
  9. Allow other people to steal: don't say 'that was my idea!' No one owns the idea, and everyone can continue to build on it.
  10. Combine different ideas, even those that someone else came up with.

Note: If you are to act as facilitator, please copy this list to all participants. Everyone should carry the ten rules of brainstorming with them. They are just as important as the more famous commandments.

There are many other creative techniques. You are advised to research the familiar information sources ...

Note: for most creative techniques the following principles apply:

  • Deferral of judgment: all ideas and thoughts should be allowed and noted; evaluation will be made at a later stage.
  • Group idea building: further develop the initial thoughts and ideas of others.
  • Multidisciplinary composition: try to involve people with diverse backgrounds.
  • Quantity of ideas: priority is given to the amount of ideas; quality judgments will be made later.
  • Short duration: try to capture the energy and motivation of the participants. Be aware that these moments only last for a limited time.