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24
Aug

Simple Guidelines for Focusing Ideas

Grouping Stickie Notes
Image by osovia Flickr

Let’s assume you have generated alot of ideas in a brainstorming session.  Your team is surrounded with stickie-notes filled with generated ideas from their brainstorming meeting.  Brainstormed ideas should be analyzed to filter out the best ideas, so the team can focus their creative direction. 

Donald J. Treffinger, Scott G. Isaksen, and K. Brian Stead-dorval are scholars, who provide some simple guidelines for focusing your thoughts on the generated ideas from a brainstorming exercise.  Their work is built upon the foundational work of Ruth Noller and Alex Osborn (the father of Brainstorming).

To be an effective problem solver, you need to generate ideas, then focus on the generated ideas. These focusing guidelines will help you to become more effective in analyzing the generated ideas.

 Guidelines for Focusing Ideas

When you focus ideas, you need to follow these guidelines:

  1. Use affirmative judgment
  2. Consider novelty
  3. Stay on Course
  4. Be deliberate

Use Affirmative Judgment

Whenever people initially hear a new idea, you may have noticed how they tend to reject the idea almost immediately.  As humans, we have a tendency to do negative “self-speak” to ourselves.  Your own inner dialague probably criticizes your “self”  hundreds of times each day.  If you do this with your own “self”, we will criticize another person’s ideas.

This guideline is critically important because you want to people to initially consider the value and benefit of a potential idea.  Critical comments are important, too.  As a general rule, my project teams must say two positive comments before they criticize any idea. 

This guideline is the most important guideline to use when you focus on the generated ideas.  Be careful whne people start to criticize initially.  You must immediately stop them.  It cuts off the whole team from exploring the value and benefit of a potential idea.

Consider Novelty

You will see some ideas that are silly, which will never work in the real world.  You must treat them seriously.  In the article on Simple Guidelines for Generating Ideas, I gave the example of an idea of putting a catapult into a mobile phone.  The project team considered the novelty of this idea.

As a result, the project team ended up going in different directions–throwing away content, getting rid of features, and so on.  By considering the novelty of the idea (rather than rejecting it immediately), the project team was open to more ideas and focused on how to use this silly idea of a catapult could be implemented in more creative ways.

Stay On Course

All discussions will take a life of their own.  You must stay on course.  Make sure the team members focus on the value and benefit of each idea, use affirmative judgement, and consider the novelty of each idea.  When the conversation strays, you must re-focus the group.

On my projects, I like to write the guidelines for generating and focusing on a board.  Frequently, I will just repeat them. when it becomes necessary.  When the conversation does stray, you just need to point to the guidelines and say them out loud.  The group will get re-focused and work gets done.

Be Deliberate

You want people to follow these guidelines to be respectful of their time.  Plus, you want to use affirmative judgement to consider the value and benefit of the ideas.  It is too easy to criticize ideas without considering the novelty.

Be deliberate.  Stick to the process.

You are not being a drill sargeant.  You are being respectful of the ideas and the people who generated them.

Conclusions

Generating ideas is only 50% of the work in a brainstorming session.  You do need to focus on the generated ideas and analyze them.  These simple guidelines for focusing will improve your results.  You will have your project teams using affirmative judgement to consider the novelty of the generated ideas. 

You will control the conversation to steer the team back to affirmative judgement and novelty, when needed.  You will be respectful of the ideas and the people who generate them.  Most of all, you will be more effective! 

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