Friday, September 26, 2008

Moving from Idea Dumping to Idea Generation

Enhancing the Value of Brainstorming Sessions

A typical brainstorming session, one where session participants are asked to think and write down ideas that may be considered as solutions for a given challenge, does not usually generate breakthrough ideas. While the session produces a good volume of ideas, the ratio between usual ideas and creative ideas leans more towards those that are already largely known. This observation empirically points to the limited capability and capacity of typical brainstorming sessions in generating unique ideas.

Why such dynamics are in place? This is because most brainstorming sessions are organised as idea dumping rather than idea creation sessions. By idea dumping, participants are encouraged to recall and release ideas that they already had. This is far from doing idea creation. While we cannot discount these ‘already had’ ideas, they are still nothing more than just old ideas.

To create new ideas in these brainstorming sessions, we need to train session participants to go beyond idea dumping, and Visual Connection is one such methods.


Visual Connection uses the technology of forced association to help session participants think beyond set patterns and prevent the digging of old memories for already known ideas.

There are many ways to execute the Visual Connection process. I am going to show you one approach, which I had used in a recent workshop.

Stage 1 - Choosing a Set of Visual Connection Cards

These could be pictures you had taken during your overseas trips or gleamed from the Internet.

The pictures may be from different themes and topics but they need to comply with the following rules:

Each picture needs to be focused on a specific theme or topic.

It has to be expressive; capable of conjuring emotions and thoughts.

It is always good to laminate the cards to reduce wear and tear from prolong use.

Stage 2 – Laying Out the Cards on the Table

The cards should be laid out on the table prior to the brainstorming session.

It is good practice to limit the overlapping of cards. Use a bigger table if this practice could not be achieved.

Where possible, avoid placing the cards near the window to reduce light reflecting from the laminated cards.

You may present these pictures as powerpoints as well. Just that you may not be able to display as many cards if they are presented in this manner.

Stage 3 – Inviting Session Participants to Select Cards

This is the stage where the session participants are invited to the table to view and select two to three cards that they like. It is always good to produce at least 1.5 times the number of cards to the number of attending session participants to offer them a wider choice of cards during this stage of the workshop.

Stage 4 – Using the Cards, Create a List of Sensory Perceptions

Here, session participants are asked to produce a list of words that immediately come to mind while looking at the pictures they have collected from the table.

They will be asked not to self-censure the words that are coming up and are encouraged to write down as many words as possible on their working sheets.

It is expected that each participant should be able to write about 10 to 15 words for each picture they had looked at.

Here is an example of this section of the process:

Chosen Picture

List of words

Old, Lonely, Green, White, Chair, Wood, Cold, Windy, Memory, Waiting, Calm, Contented, Thinking, Happy, Resting

Stage 5 – Introducing the Problem/Challenge Statement

It is at this stage that the problem or challenge statement is introduced. The owner of the problem/challenge could provide a short introduction on its background, and session participants could clarify. Conversations about its solutions should be refrained at this stage.

Stage 6 – Generating Ideas Using the List of Sensory Words

With the problem/challenge statement as the context, the session participants could now use the list of words generated earlier on to develop some ideas for the problem/challenge.

Each of idea could be written on a slip of paper and pasted on the wall to enable the Gallery Walk

Use another word on the list once no more ideas could be created from it.

Here is an example of how the list of words could be used:

Problem Statement

Besides imposing a surcharge of S$5.00, how else could taxis be encouraged to pick up passengers at designated taxi stands near the F1 racing arena?

Word Taken From the List


Idea Created

Give each taxi driver a F1 collectable to reward them for coming into the designated taxi stand.

Here is a slideshare on the technique.

Do give this technique a try when you are conducting a facilitated brainstorming session and good luck.

This article was written by Anthony Mok on 27 Sep 2008 and the SlideShare is added on 10 Feb 2010.

Copyright 2008 and 2010. Anthony Mok. All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

惹塵埃 said...

Very good artice. You are a generous person to share your knowledge. Thann you.