Brainstorming to Brainsteering
Ratan Tata asked the question, ”How can I provide a safe transport to the people at
an affordable cost?”, and came with the idea of Nano car.
Michael Dell asked the question, “How to serve knowledgeable users who don’t
need expensive sales support of the usual channels?”, and ended up with the novel
idea of direct sales bypassing the dealers.
eBay asked the question, “How can we link passionate buyers and sellers who are
separated from each other?”, and ended up with online sales.
Compaq asked the question,”How can we design an IBM-compatible computer that will fit into the overhead bin of an aeroplane?”, and came up with the idea of easily portable personal computers.
Alex Osborn, in his classic book, “Applied Imagination” popularised the concept of the traditional idea generation technique, ‘Brainstorming.’ Assemble a group of heterogeneous people, give them a specific problem, set a time limit and ask them to shoot their ideas.
Quantity is the emphasis, no evaluation allowed during the session, wild ideas are welcome and combining / building on others ideas are encouraged. The elegance of this technique is its simplicity.
However, several studies later showed that the psychological and sociological aspects of group dynamics affects the flow of ideas and the technique is not very useful as it should be.
When a group of twenty attend a meeting, typically seventeen people don’t say much.
They just don’t like speaking in large crowds because of the risk of being judged. On the other hand several studies show that gathering the team members together, informing them of the desired goals and sending them to separate rooms produces much more ideas.
Kevin Coyne and Shawn Coyne, professor at Emory University and management consultant, respectively, propose a new technique in their book ‘Brainsteering - A better approach to breakthrough ideas,’ to ask the right
questions to generate breakthrough ideas in a variety of settings.
Of course, the inconveniences any one faces, is the root of all the innovative ideas. So the relevant question focusses to address those issues. In the preowned car business, the top three hassles customers face are ‘Am I paying the right price?’, visiting several show rooms and seeing more than one vehicle of the type, and worrying that the car that you were about to buy contained hidden defects. CarMax revolutionised the preowned car business with fixed pricing (no bargaining), maintaining
huge stock (no more selection hassles) and both a five – day money – back guarantee and thirty 30 day limited warranty (peace of mind.)
Importantly one can expect to produce innovative ideas by reusing a right question even in those cases where someone else has already applied the exact same question in the exact same situation. Yes, most of the issues are open-ended with several solutions.
In the air travel, a large portion of the private jet industry exists because of the airport experience many executives want to avoid. Several senior executives go for private jets inspite of several small inconveniences –
such as very small aircrafts (you can’t even stand up straight) congested seats and space,little onboard service etc. Few airlines pose the the question, ‘How can we reduce the hassles passengers face in the airports?’ and go to great lengths and come up with special waiting lounges, paying extra fees to airports for priority access lines, web check in and self check in kiosks with preferred seat selection etc. Same question, yet different ideas.
Kevin and Shawn suggest the following questions
1 For New Products and Services:
* What is the biggest (avoidable) hassle that customers have to put up with?
* For which users, or which uses, or which occasions, are current products least well suited?
* Who has asignificant need for this product but is prevented from buying or using it because of one obstacle?
2 For de-averaging Users and Activities
* Which customers does our industry prefer not to serve?
* Which customers don’t need the full set of capabilities that we charge our customers for?
* Which customers’ needs are shifting most rapidly? What will they be in five years?
3 For Exploring Unexpected Successes
* Who uses our product / service in ways we never expected or intended?
* Who has modified our product most extensively after purchasing it?
* Who is adapting / disassembling our product to use only a key component (or conversely, who is combining it with other products in a unique way?)
* What group of potential customers is as large as our current customer base, but aren’t customers for one particular reason?
4 For Discovering Unrecognised Headroom
* Where does the “rules” already provide more flexibility than we currently take advantage of it?
* Which technologies embedded in our product have changed the most since the product was last redsigned?
5 For more successful selling efforts
* How does our single most successful sales person behave differently from the average?
How does he find prospects? Which of our product’s features does he emphasize? What does he do to follow up after the initial sales call? How should our other sales people change their behaviour accordingly?
6 For reducing costs
* What can we do to consolidate or restructure the jobs of any less than fully busy people?
* Where do we still use people to process routine forms or information, rather than have it done elctronicially without human intervention.