Brainstorming Laid Bare

brainstorming.jpgEarlier this month, as Gap’s problems came back into the news, the gang at Influx posted a list of 21 possible solutions. While not the raw output from a brainstorming session, it’s still first stage output and, as you would expect, is “a wild mix of the predictable, the impractical and the crazy.”

While the folks at Gap ought to read this list, its value for me isn’t so much in the solutions, as in the opportunity to see a snapshot of an early stage in the innovation process. Some of these ideas are contradictory while others are downright silly, but Influx laid them all out for us to see. In a lot of companies I know, some of these ideas wouldn’t even make it out of a brainstorming session much less onto a public Web site. They would be self-selected out because they are “obviously” not workable. Each of us can see the ideas that are silly, right? Right, but which ones? Show this list to twenty people and I’ll bet that not one idea is unanimously declared to be not worth following up.

Influx does us all a great service by posting this list because we get to see that while many of the ideas are ones we might have come up with, others are more insightful than what we could think of, and others we might have thought of but never said for fear of looking silly. But you never know how the really innovative solution will emerge and it usually comes from a combination of ideas, some of which intially seemed great, and others that seemed pretty bad. If your company knocks out ideas at brainstorming sessions for being dumb, unrealistic, or retreads (or just about any other reason, for that matter), you have to wonder if you’re allowed to have any new ideas at all.

Now, if Influx would only show us how to implement…

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