The term “ideation” describes the entire process of developing, articulating and formalizing ideas. Brainstorming is certainly not limited to formal ideation, but it does play a primary role in this process. Think of ideation brainstorming as the formative stage of the group discussion where everyone is expressing the raw material in their minds regarding the issue at hand.

Overview: What is ideation brainstorming?

Brainstorming sets the stage for the rest of the ideation process, so it’s something you should approach with deliberate strategy. A typical brainstorming session involves one or more people directing their thoughts towards a particular problem or issue.

Initial steps include defining the problem and pitching alternative perspectives or strategies that may circumvent the problem itself. Sometimes the best solution is to take an entirely different approach. Group ideas are organized, analyzed and tested when appropriate throughout the process to guide future decisions.

3 benefits of ideation brainstorming

Strategic thinking and brainstorming can seem like a meaningless activity at first, but experienced leaders know that thought development is the foundation for any kind of success.

1. Control the chaos

Formal brainstorming sessions can bring some order to the chaos of ideation. Leaders can implement technical tools, like affinity or fishbone diagrams, to help clarify some of the key issues and solutions. There’s a fine line between structuring and stifling, but don’t let that scare you away from technical aids.

2. Receive new perspectives

It’s very possible for one person to do ideation brainstorming all on their own, but this is rarely the best way. While every group is different, brainstorming is often exponentially more valuable as a team exercise rather than solo. The combination of personalities and perspectives can shed an entirely new light on the situation.

3. Multipurpose applications

One of the main benefits to mastering ideation brainstorming is the ability to apply it almost anywhere. It’s a basic step in any kind of new product design, overall brand development and its a core feature of the “Improve” part of Six Sigma’s DMAIC protocol.

Why is ideation brainstorming important to understand?

Everyone has good ideas and bad ideas, but some bad ideas are definitely worse than others. It’s important to understand the ideation process so you can keep bad ideas from influencing the final outcome.

1. Brainstorming is a core business practice

Brainstorming should be part of daily life in business, but that doesn’t mean it should happen all the time. Business leaders and their teams need to know when to engage in brainstorming and innovation and when it’s time to focus on the next stage.

2. Every process starts with concept

Every product, service or process began with a concept. Understanding how these concepts are developed and communicated is an invaluable skill in business management. Leaders who master ideation have almost no limits on what they can accomplish.

3. Companies live by their ideas

The way that a company develops and expresses ideas essentially becomes their brand personality. It becomes the tangible nature of the company to its employees and the general public. Ideas define people and organizations alike, so it’s worth putting in the effort to get good ones.

An industry example of ideation brainstorming

A mid-sized retail store is struggling as their sales and customer numbers continue to decline. An examination of the data reveals that primary losses occurred due to competition from other local stores and online shopping. This is the backdrop for the rest of the ideation process.

Initial stages of brainstorming may cover options for gracefully closing the store, making dramatic changes in brand or moving to a new location. This is where the leaders need to pick an outcome to pursue. Do they want to preserve as much value as they can or risk it by trying to make the store profitable again?

In this example, the leaders decide to continue at their current location. This means the next brainstorming session should be focused on novel strategies or significant improvements on current processes that could solve the problem of customer loss to local and online competitors.

3 best practices when thinking about ideation brainstorming

Brainstorming is a delicate process because it’s easy for it to get off track and for valuable input to get lost in the natural chaos of a group dynamic. Leaders should follow a few best practices to get the most of this effort.

1. Consider all ideas

It’s easy to reject ideas as unacceptable or absurd without really thinking about it from the proper perspective. Leaders shouldn’t dwell on ideas that clearly won’t work, but they should still acknowledge and consider them as long as the reasoning has validity.

2. Be ready to collaborate

Collaboration and compromise go hand-in-hand. Collaboration also means being willing to try things without committing to them completely. Be willing to put things to the test when there’s doubt between two ideas.

3. Make space for innovation

Innovation is something you foster rather than manufacture. It’s the result of inspiration, participation and engagement. Leaders should take steps to encourage everyone to participate without being too forceful.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about ideation brainstorming

What are the stages of ideation?

One of the simplest ways to structure ideation is by breaking it down into three stages: generation, selection and development. The winnowing process often takes the form of procedural elimination or a similar decision structure.

What kind of tools are used in brainstorming ideation?

Typical brainstorming tools take the form of graphs and diagrams that help participants prioritize and place specific ideas into the scope of the project.

What’s the difference between brainstorming and ideation?

Ideation is the total process of idea development and expression. Brainstorming is an activity that is necessary to do ideation, but it has many uses elsewhere as well.

Get good ideas

Good ideas aren’t magical and mysterious inspirations, they are the result of careful consideration, collaboration and calculation. That’s why brainstorming and formal ideation practices are built into the core of strong Six Sigma programs.

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