Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Design Thinking: In defense of Brainstorming! (aka. You might not need Brainwriting...) Part 1

A  week ago Fast Company's Rebecca Greenfield wrote a piece entitled "Brainstorming Doesn't Work; Try this technique instead". While Fast Company has many great articles and I did agree with some of pitfalls listed in the article, (with apologies to Leigh Thompson of Kellogg School), but I think Brainstorming works just fine if you're doing it 'right'. We don't need Brainwriting, but rather just stick to Design Thinking's Brainstorming 8x rules and you should be in great shape!

We love Design Thinking at SAP and we especially love the Brainstorming part. Along with SAP I suggest that Stanford d.school, IDEO and many other companies also aren't giving up Brainstorming anytime soon. When done correctly, I believe those companies are still reaping many rewards from those sessions.

We have 8x basic rules that govern Brainstorming sessions (link to d.school Bootleg PDF on Brainstorming):

  1. Defer Judgment - to prevent smothering radical ideas
  2. Go for volume - to push envelope to get to great ideas
  3. One conversation at a time - to ensure everyone gets a voice
  4. Be visual - to stimulate right-side of the brain and communicate efficiently
  5. Headline - to help communicate efficiently and filter through ideas quickly
  6. Build on the Ideas of others - to help iterate and evolve ideas
  7. Stay on topic - keep sessions moving and prevent time wasting
  8. Encourage wild ideas - getting past the easy, obvious ideas
You can see a great blog post describing the rules above by Caroline O'Connor of Stanford d.School at Rules for Brainstorming.

Below are 3x concerns I have regarding why Brainstorming wasn't being applied optimally in Leigh Thompson's research. I've love to see if the statistics and outcomes would have differed if the groups had a proper Design Thinking coach and were adhering to the d.school process.

#1 - In Design Thinking Brainstorming sessions, we have idea/post-it-note rounds where team members write down their ideas on post-it-notes by themselves individually before verbally sharing with the group.There are definitely oral parts of it, but I disagree with Leigh Thompson's premise that (2:01 of How to Stop People from Dominating Meetings video):

Brainstorming: Simultaneous Oral Generation of Ideas
Brainwriting: Simultaneous Written Generation of Ideas
If Brainstorming was just Oral Generation of ideas, why do I keep buying so many darn Post-it-Notes and Sharpies! One of the d.school Design Thinking rules is being visual (#4), which *only* can happen on written down ideas. We do in fact write ideas, atomically one per Post-it-Note all.the.time.

(Using Voting Dots with Design Thinking)

#2 - In Design Thinking we also use voting dots to help semi-democratically decide on which ideas to execute on first. The dots are equal in size (and therefore also equal in 'voice') and can't lobby other dots, so aren't vulnerable to 'Doom Loops'. The process is usually done with little talking, so once again minimizing any dominating participate effect. (There is obviously still some small possibility of peer pressure but it's largely minimized for the reasons stated above.)

#3 - The Stanford d.school's Design Thinking Brainstorming has more rules and structure in place over and above the 2x rules that Leigh Thompson from Kellogg School has. Rules that encourage full group participation and embrace not just balance but also diversity. So if you're looking to change things up, why not move to a more encompassing methodology?

While it's often hard to argue with Fast Company or Kellogg School, but I believe I'm going to keep to Stanford d.school's Design Thinking Brainstorming sessions. At least for me, it's been working great and we don't often suffer from Doom Loops and Uneven Communication Effect

We've never really had a problem with that using d.school's Design Thinking methodology. These days I feel that a "Brainstorming Session" without these rules is just a discussion. ;) It's not really what we'd call "Brainstorming."

Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau

p.s. I realized that I did not outline what I thought was biggest obstacle for Brainstorming. Therefore I'll be posted a follow-up Part 2 on this posting.

Original Links for Fortune & Fast Company articles on Brainwriting:

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