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How To Use 4 Rules to Unleash the Greatest Brainstorm of Your Career

Brainstorming

We looked around the conference room.

Silence.

Everyone was looking up at the ceiling, at the table, futzing with their pencils… They were looking everywhere but at the whiteboard.

“No one? No one can think any good ideas to prepare people for this event?”

Silence.

“Well. Does anyone have any bad ideas?”

Someone laughed and said “Well, we could always duct tape the FAQ to their face so they absorb it by osmosis.”

Someone chuckled. “Yes, and we could tattoo it to their arm, too!”

The room started to wake up.

Someone else jumped in, “Or we could make it their smartphone background, so they’re forced to accidentally read it as they’re using their phone.”

And then “Yes! And we could drive to their house, sneak into their room, and whisper it into their ear while they sleep.”

With a jolt, someone stood up. “Wait. There’s actually something to that. Not the sneaking into their house part, but what if we made the FAQ into a podcast? Something people could listen to while they drove to the event?”

The event organizers sat back, stunned. That was actually a pretty good idea. In just 2 minutes, they went from an awkwardly quiet room to one bursting with great ideas.

As soon as they were liberated from coming up with good ideas and were encouraged to come up with bad ones, the energy in the room picked up. Conversation started flowing. Eventually some of those bad ideas (with some modifications) became great ones.

With a few simple rules, the group had the most productive brainstorm in the history of their event.

The Four Rules For The Most Productive Brainstorm In Your Life

1) Quantity > Quality.
It may seem counter intuitive, but coming up with lots of bad ideas is better than a few good ideas.  In the story, we originally asked “Does anyone have any GOOD ideas?” That implied some standard of quality. People either self censored (thinking their ideas weren’t good enough) or worked too hard trying to come up with “good” ideas.

2) Defer Judgement.
Instead, embrace the bad ones!If you acknowledge you’re not judging ideas right now, it’s really easy to come up with lots and lots of bad ones. Sometimes a good one slips through, but more often it just means you get to use the next rule…

3) Yes, and...
This comes from improvisational comedy. If you say “No,” the improv scene or the idea is dead in the water. Instead, say “Yes, and… we could add this to it” or “and we could change this part” or “and we could do this aspect differently.”

In the story above, obviously we probably shouldn’t sneak into people’s homes and whisper to them while they sleep. But we used “yes, and…” to take the good part of the idea, using their ears instead of their eyes, and build on it.

You can almost always take a bad idea and “Yes, and” it into a good one.

4) Don’t Get Caught Up in the Details.
If you’re coming up with lots of bad ideas, it’s important not to get bogged down with the details too soon. People tend to immediately look for why something won’t work… don’t do that! Don’t get bogged down in the details. Wait to fill them in later. At this point, you want to produce lots of ideas – getting into the weeds on each one will just slow you down.

So next time you need to brainstorm ideas, go for quantity over quality. The more going into the top of a funnel means more comes out the bottom. And that means a higher chance of fantastic ideas.

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Why Feasibility Studies Are The Wrong Way To Start

Every time I hear the phrase “Feasibility Study,” I cringe.

A Feasibility Study means an organization isn’t thinking about their customers. They’re thinking about themselves. And that means the customer isn’t going to end up with their problems getting solved.

Why do people do Feasibility Studies? Generally, to find out if it’s feasible to build something. Do they have the resources to build it? Do they have the technical ability to build it? Is it even possible to build?

Can you guess what question is missing here? Hint: “Do customers want it?”

Whenever an organization starts with a Feasibility Study, it means they’re more concerned with can they build something, rather than should they build something. Which means they end up building something that’s feasible… but not necessarily desirable.

Instead of starting with a Feasibility Study, start with a Desirability Study. Go find out what the customer truly wants. What is the most desirable way to solve their problem?

Pretend you’re in an ideal, magical world with unlimited resources and no pesky physics. There’s nothing stopping you from making your customer’s wildest dreams a reality. Go find out what those wildest dreams are.

Only move on once you know how desirable a solution is.

At Wonful, we use a framework called DVF, or Desirability, Viability, Feasibility, to compare and prioritize product ideas.

Whenever we’re evaluating a potential idea, we rate it on these three metrics, and in that order. To use a concrete example, lets talk about Jet Packs.

Desirability: Do people want it? (Yes! People definitely want jet packs. You could fly over the traffic jam during your morning commute, skip the hike and go straight to the summit of the mountain, and you could experience what humans have dreamed of for so long!)

Viability: Is there a business case for this? This is a hand-wavey estimate of impact divided by cost. Is it worth it? (Definitely! Lots of people would buy jet packs, if they were available.)

Feasibility: Can it be built? (Unfortunately, the technology just isn’t there. Also, can you imagine the FAA’s response? They’d probably have a cow!)

Rate your idea a score of 1 (low) to 10 (high) for each of the three dimensions. These ratings are a best-guess, and Desirability is based on your understanding of the customer (and should be supported by customer interviews and fresh data).

Jet packs would definitely rate a 10 on Desirability, probably an 8 on Viability (only rich people could afford them at first, but there’d definitely be cheaper models in the future), but definitely a 1 on Feasibility.

If you have more than one product idea, you can also use DVF to decide which ones to focus on. Once all your ideas are rated, examine the ones that rated highly across the board. Start exploring those in more detail.

Then look at ideas that ranked high on Desirability, but lower on Viability or Feasibility. What can you change about those ideas to improve them?

Instead of jet packs, we could make one of those water powered jet packs. Yes, it’d be for recreation instead of practical use, so the desirability would probably drop down to a 7. And yes, you’d be tied to a lake or a river instead of free to fly wherever you want, so make Viability a 6. But feasibility would shoot up to a 9. It’s totally something we could build! Add it to your list of ideas to continue exploring.

Desirability is the most important of the three elements. If we didn’t start with Desirability, we never would have thought of the water-powered jet pack idea. If we had started with Feasibility, we would have simply ruled out jet packs as something that couldn’t be built and moved on.

People start with Feasibility Studies to see if they can build something. But what’s the point in building something if nobody wants it? Start with Desirability Studies to figure out how desirable products are, use DVF to compare different product ideas to help you prioritize what to explore more, and worry about how realistic and feasible an idea is only after you know people would want it.

 

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