‘…….many great discoveries are made by a combination of an accident and the prepared mind’.
Sten Grillner, Scientist, member of the Nobel Prize committee
Teams employ various tools and techniques during brainstorming and problem solving. The end goal is to find creative solutions to business problems. There are several methods like concept fan and the reframing matrix that are time tested and have been applied effectively in team situations around the world. Whether a team uses brainstorming, or any other form of creative problem solving, the main purpose is usually to think through a problem and solve it in a manner that delivers good business results. There is one small hurdle that has to be crossed before the team can make its final recommendations, this is proper identification of the best solution for a business problem. The ideas are on the table but the process is often lacking in “how to” pinpoint the most appropriate solution.
It is all too easy to do an automatic assessment and weed out ideas that don’t seem good enough on the surface. However, there are instances when this approach has resulted in losing out on some truly effective ideas. Some good ideas never see the light of day because the team did not take the time to examine it in more detail. This usually happens in team situations when the person putting across the idea isn’t very forceful or convincing. It also happens when there are overly critical people in the team or when the team has the tendency to make hasty decisions without taking the time to think things through.
Building On Ideas
‘Building on ideas’ is a powerful way to make good use of the creative process. It ensures that you give time to an idea before you finally evaluate its usefulness for a task. A very good example is the indispensable masking tape that we all use in our day to day lives. Dick Drew of 3M picked up a glimmer of an idea and built on it. He persisted with his idea despite being told by his superior to drop the project.
Ideas need to be fleshed-out a little before they are discarded as impractical. This is different from evaluation. During evaluation, teams study the business sense of a particular approach or idea. They have to study the pros and cons of using that approach, the cost implications and the business benefits of the approach. Building on ideas on the other hand precedes evaluation. It is a mechanism where an idea is elaborated on and developed a little further to see if it has any value at all.
Team members have to chew on the idea and ponder on the following two questions:
- How can I use this idea for this particular task?
- What can I add to this idea to make it suitable for this task?
All major innovations and inventions that we see around us today are available for us to experience and use because the inventor built on their ideas. A case in point is Sir Isaac Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation which apparently started with an apple falling from a tree! The falling apple led to the insight on acceleration and velocity and later led to the development of the law of gravity. Building on ideas is therefore a crucial step in ensuring that all ideas get a fair chance. Many ideas have a latent value that becomes apparent only after the team dwells on it. It is like a progression that takes place as the collective thoughts of the team develop the idea further.
The illustration below portrays the process flow or the discussion flow during team brainstorming sessions. The right approach explores ideas further. In the short-sighted approach the team gets into evaluation mode almost as soon as the idea is stated without giving ideas a chance to be explored further.
Flow of Discussion:
| Right process: ‘Building on ideas’ approach
Generate ideas Build a little on each idea and see where it’s going Rule out the impractical and unfeasible ideas (don’t waste time) Shortlist a few relevant ideas Discuss the short-listed ideas further and evaluate them Take a decision on the best solution for a given problem
| Wrong process: Short-sighted approach
Generate ideas Rule out the ideas that ‘seem’ unsuitable on the surface Shortlist a few relevant ideas Discuss the short-listed ideas further and evaluate them Take a decision on the best solution for a given problem
The difference between the short-sighted approach and the right approach is in the stage at which you weed out ideas and rule out the so called ‘unsuitable ones’. All too often, you find team members setting aside ideas without a moment’s hesitation. Individual perceptions come into play and at times the potential in an idea is not fully explored before it is cast aside. It is therefore important for teams to take a moment to develop any idea that comes up for discussion. That’s when the ideation exercise is truly useful for the team.
1. How To Be A Better Team Builder, Rupert Eales-White
2. Discovery of Masking Tape – http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/maskingtape.htm