Brainstorming is an integral part of the product development process. Every invention on the market starts out as an idea. Sometimes those ideas are easy to come to fruition and other times a little more thought goes into them. Whether you are brainstorming your idea in a group or by yourself, here are four common pitfalls you should avoid during your brainstorming session.
1. Avoid getting caught up on the details
One of the biggest pitfalls we encounter when we are brainstorming is getting caught up in the specific details of how we can get our design to work. There are times you don’t know how until you start designing. If you focus your attention too early on the specific details of how a concept will work you may discard a good concept because you cannot see the specific functionality immediately.
The best way to avoid this is by writing down what you want the product to do and keep coming back to that when you find yourself getting onto a tangent. At Synectic, we constantly talk about having a well-defined product specification (PDS) before you even start designing. The PDS outlines your product requirements (things like size, what’s its function, and the environment it will have to work in). During the design and development process, we constantly refer to the PDS to see if we are on the right track. The same can be said for brainstorming, if you find yourself on a tangent, bring out the PDS and ask yourself if what you are suggesting will fulfill those previously defined parameters.
Your goal here is not to fully develop your product, but to give you a direction forward.
2. Don't focus on the sharks
In other words, know when to move past big problems. While the above point about not fixating on tiny details is true for any and all products that are developed, on the flip side when you run into giant problems, you need to know when to ignore them and move on. In those cases, it is best to focus on smaller problems and brainstorm those. Eventually, a solution to the giant problem will present itself, but you will never be able to move forward in designing your product if all progress is stopped while you work out your giant problem.
Here’s an analogy we thought of while brainstorming this article. Picture yourself on the edge of a body of water. On the other side of the water is a cliff which you need to get to the top of. In the body of water are a bunch of sharks. The goal is to get to the top of the cliff, but the big problem is that the sharks are impeding the ways you can accomplish this. Well, the best thing to do right now is to ignore the sharks and instead think of all the ways you could possibly get to the top of the cliff. At some point, as you brainstorm and come up with all these ways, an idea will present itself that will address the problem of the sharks. However, if you instead focus all your energy and efforts on ways to get past the sharks, you never will find a way up the cliff.
3. Never fall in love with your idea
We have a saying at Synectic that goes “Don’t fall in love with your idea because tomorrow someone will come along with a better one”. It is very easy when brainstorming, to have a “lightbulb moment” and fall into this trap where critical thinking and further idea development stop because you fall in love with one specific idea. You need to push past it. Write the idea down and continue thinking of other ideas. When you have a multitude of different ideas then you can go back and evaluate them to determine which one is the most feasible.
In group brainstorming sessions, it may not be your idea, and that is ok. When brainstorming by yourself, the idea that fits all the parameters of the PDS and is best from a cost, engineering, and safety standpoint may not be the idea you love the most. Again, it’s important to remember that when all is said and done the product must conform to the parameters laid out in your PDS. Whatever idea fulfills the product needs most fully, is the one that you should further develop.
4. Never label an idea as crazy
The fastest way to depress ingenuity and stem the flow of ideas is to label an idea as crazy. True, your colleague’s idea could be the most far-fetched and improbable idea you’ve ever heard, but another colleague could use their crazy idea as a jumping-off point for a truly remarkable one.
When brainstorming let the ideas flow and let everyone have a say. Write everything down so you can come back and evaluate each one later. By keeping an open mind, you will be amazed at the progress you can make and ideas you can come up with.
If you still find yourself stuck on an idea, take a walk, step away from the problem for a day or two, or even pull in additional people to help. Remember, the most important thing to take away when reading anything about brainstorming is that brainstorming won’t solve the specifics of your problem, but it will give you a direction forward.