You have a problem. You gather a group of smart, creative people and say, Let’s brainstorm. Together, you bounce around a bunch of ideas, whittling and honing them until you arrive at it: The Solution.
Well, if that’s how you’re doing it, you have another problem: you’re brainstorming wrong.
Using brainstorming to focus and refine ideas is convergent—using your collective creative power to zero in on the right answer. Instead, try divergent brainstorming, where the goal is to come up with as many different ideas as possible, straying from what seem like good ideas to explore the distant margins of what might work.
Here are some guidelines from Quartz for how to set the stage for divergent brainstorming:
Expand your circle. Invite people to the brainstorm beyond the team you’re used to working with, and beyond the team that’s used to thinking about this problem.
Make the group diverse. You want as many perspectives as possible, so look for diversity in age, background, gender, experience, and personality.
Clarify the problem. Make sure everyone understands the problem. Also, look at it from as many angles as you can—challenge your assumptions about its cause and implications.
Go for quantity over quality. “No bad ideas” is the mantra of brainstorming, but without a replacement for quality, you can be left without a goal to work toward. That’s where quantity comes in. Generate as many ideas as you can—you’ll worry about what’s good later.
Don’t try to agree. Once one good idea comes up, you may feel excitement or relief. Save it. And save the idea—you won’t lose it—and keep generating more ideas. If you come to consensus too early, you may miss out on the truly weird and groundbreaking ideas you’d have come to with a bit more time.
Embrace playfulness. What you’re really going for is creativity, and you know who’s great at unrestrained creativity? Kids. To whatever extent you can loosen your proverbial professional tie, do it. Get back to that weird, free brain you had when you were a kid. That’s where the crazy—and excellent—ideas are.
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