Quality through quantity

March 31, 2016 Focus area: Continuous Innovation

Our brains are wired for fast decision making. When confronted with a threat, humans either fight or flight. We tend to respond in a similar fashion to business problems or challenges. This happens on a human and organizational level. Managers want results and they want them fast. The first solution that meets the criteria and solves the problem is often the one that gets implemented. This creates a culture were ‘good enough’ solutions will do, without evaluating different options. After solving one solution we will rush ourselves to deal with the next problem.

Design thinking structures the process of problem solving. Applying these principles in any field will create better solutions. Taking a bit more time than the instinctive approach of problem solving will pay of in the future. Better solutions create more value, are more sustainable and cause less new problems. A typical design process follows the next steps; analysis, problem definition, ideation, conceptualising, prototyping and testing. I do not suggest to apply a complete design approach to every daily life problem, but I believe it is a good idea to use design thinking principles when developing solutions that will have a significant impact. The easiest step can simply be to force yourself to ideate: develop multiple solutions for a problem. Do this fast paced, open your mind for new ideas. Sketch or write down your first idea, the second, the third, and so on. While creating new ideas do not evaluate them yet. Crazy ideas with lots of practical issues help you to create less crazy ideas that will meet your criteria. You have performed a one-man brainstorm. Now you can evaluate the different options and choose the best solution for your problem.

Some studies say that one-man brainstorming is actually a more effective method for creative problem solving than brainstorming with a group. For me this is the same as saying that walking is a more effective means of traveling than driving a car. Well, it is for a person who never took the effort to learn how to operate a motor vehicle. The result of a group brainstorm can be a lot of noise and no valuable new ideas. Some group members will start enthusiastically by sharing their ideas. What often happens next is that other people in the group directly point out the flaws of these ideas. This is a flight or fight instinct and it can be difficult to withhold yourself from this behavior. “This has been done before” and “Its too expensive” are easy comments to make. The team members who came up with the ideas feel criticized and will not put themselves in a vulnerable position again. What just happened is that some people floored the gas pedal while at the same time others were hitting the brakes. “We are not moving and the car makes a lot of noise, this does not work for us, lets walk again.” To have an effective brainstorm, simply do not allow anyone to hit the brake while going full throttle. Follow the basic rules:

  1. -  Postpone judgment
  2. -  Welcome new ideas
  3. -  Combine and improve ideas
  4. -  Quality through quantity
Groups with lots of energy can generate dozens of new ideas in a matter of minutes. Before you start, you do not know whether the first, the fifth or the 27nd idea is brilliant. When a group agrees to follow the simple rules of brainstorming, it can be a magical experience and actually feel like all minds in the room are connected, operating as one big creative brain.