From Brainstorming to Brainsteering: Channeling Creative Ideas into Productive Solutions

Most of us are familiar with the concept of brainstorming, a creativity exercise tailored to encourage groups to generate ideas that address their concerns or solve problems. This method of finding a bigger better solution to pressing business issues is commonly used throughout the professional world. However, there is a new partner on brainstorming’s horizon. Brainsteering, a fine-tuned version of brainstorming facilitation, utilizes all the creative energy linked with traditional brainstorming and funnels it into a more specific (therefore productive) direction, improving the pipeline between creativity and the critical thought-out solutions that create momentum.

The first and most important step in brainsteering is to ask the right questions. Leaders and managers seeking change and results need carefully orchestrated, specific questions that can unlock innovation within their team of employees. The key is to find the root of the problem, or the origin of the need for change. For example, rather than asking: how can overall profits be improved? A facilitator might ask: what new or recycled services can we offer in our southwest target market to improve our overall profits?  

After brainstormers generate ideas from their initial questions, it is recommended to consider a filtering process for thinking over the most appealing notions. The process starts with the “first-blush analysis,” which is a test of workability. This requires considering the following factors:

  • Does the idea have fundamental validity?
  • Does the idea have significant value that customers can appreciate?
  • Does the idea target a market with significant economic impact?
  • Are there showstoppers associated to the idea that would negate its possibilities?
  • Why has noone tried this idea before?

If an idea can satisfy the first-blush analysis, it graduates to the quick-discovery phase. This next stage of filtering criteria begins with assessing how much better the new idea (product, service) needs to perform in comparison with the existing alternative. Next, it’s important to consider the critical assumptions that need to be proven accurate in order to make the idea succeed. Subsequently, less apparent showstoppers that might eradicate the idea should also be recognized.

It is also helpful to encourage brainstormers in reaching out to experts for further detailed exploration and verification. It’s important to utilize the most up-to-date resources in testing necessary critical assumptions, and continue to build a specific and relevant filter. Utilizing these steps, the brainsteering method allows leaders and facilitators to channel their employee’s unrefined thoughts and ideas into innovative solutions for continued growth and success.

Coyne, K. and Coyne, S. (2011 March) Seven Steps to Better Brainstorming, McKinsey Quarterly.

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