Brainstorming – a standard of idea generation

Hello everyone. Last time, I wrote about “facilitation” which is a super important “soft skill” for problem solvers. From this time onwards, I would like to return to the “to-be (future state design)”. So, this time, I will write about “brainstorming” which is the standard for generating ideas.

I think most people know the word “brainstorming” itself, and I think there are many people who actually do it. And, the more experienced you are, the more likely you are to think that it’s rather difficult, isn’t it? So, I’m going to introduce some techniques about how to brainstorm.

In this blog, I recommend “having Gemba members think about problem solutions”, so problem solvers who are facilitators need to make full use of various techniques to promote idea generation (Of course, you should always be ready to come up with ideas by yourself).

1. Flow of “brainstorming” – from “divergence” to “convergence”

This is I mentioned last time as “I will write about it later”, but when brainstorming, it is important to be aware of the change in phase from “divergence” to “convergence”.

What I’m saying is, it’s not that big deal, but it’s about generating a lot of ideas in “divergence” phase and narrowing down the ideas that came out in “convergence” phase. So, in order to be aware of the changing situation, it would be better to state in the agenda of the meeting as,

1. Divergence for ideas (xx min) : xx:xx ~ xx:xx

2. Convergence for ideas (xx min) : xx:xx ~ xx:xx


2. Idea “Divergence” Techniques

Of course, first you need to present “what you would like participatns to come up with ideas about”. Anything is fine, but since we are in the flow of problem solving here, I think it would be about coming up with ideas about solutions to address the “root causes” of the problem. Let me share with you an image that diverted from the fishbone analysis (logic tree image) that I posted earlier.

Brainstorming to address "root causes" (Image)
Fig1. Brainstorming to address “root causes” (Image)

I think the brainstorming begins with saying something like, “Well then, let’s come up with ideas for solutions for each root cause”! If it’s a team that can come up with ideas more and more, all the facilitator should do is to write them down on whiteboard (or type it into PowerPoint). But in most of the world things don’t go so well (laughs). So, let me share some techniques here.

a) Silent brainstorming

This is to hand out post-its (and marker pens) to participants and asking them like “I am going to give you _minutes, so please write down your ideas on post-its”! In case of online, put the PowerPoint file in sharing mode and ask participants to copy post-its (image boxes) on the PowerPoint and write their ideas on them.

If you are asked like this, you would relatively come out some ideas, so this is a highly recommended technique. I think even shy Japanese people (laughs) would come out ideas more and more.

And paste post-its ,share them and while looking at them, it’s like pulling out more ideas. Here, I think you can make full use of the “divide horizontally” and “divide vertically” that I wrote in the previous “Facilitation” post. It’s an opportunity for facilitators to show off their skills.

As a little tip, it is to ask them to write “their names” in small letters on post-its. Because when you paste it, you won’t know whose idea it is.

b) Crazy 8

Let me share with you another interesting technique. To do this, give each participant a piece of paper (A4 paper, ripped notebook, or whatever). Then, ask them to fold their papers into eight. It’s like this (sorry for “full of ripped feeling”) 🙂

A paper folded into 8 for Crazy 8
Pic1. A paper folded into 8 for Crazy 8

Enter brainstorming from here. Facilitators need to say like “I am going to give you 1 minute, so please write your ideas in the top left space!” and then measure 1 minute by using stopwatch (if they share stopwatch on PC, that would be more lively!).

After one minute has passed, say, “It doesn’t matter if you haven’t finished writing yet, so please write the next idea in the upper right space in one minute!”.

In this way, fill in the spaces in order from left to right, top to bottom. When you are forced to divide the time in this way, it’s a way of turning on the switch and coming up with more and more ideas.

As a tip, it’s better to do this by handwriting on paper. Even people who are used to using a PC would take some time. Since it’s one minute, it’s better to be able to take quick notes of ideas.

Even in the case of online meetings, ask participants to prepare piece of papers and write it down on paper. So, of course, I think that what comes out is dirty and unreadable (laughs), so take time to share their ideas with each other and write them down on whiteboard or PowerPoint.

This “Crazy 8” is interesting, but it might be for participants who get used to brainstorming. For others, “silent brainstorming” may be safer. Well, go ahead and try it anyway!

So far, put aside if the ideas are good or bad (laughs), I think you’ve come up with a lot of ideas. This “putting aside if the ideas are good and bad” is very important in “divergence”. It’s quite common that when you start sharing ideas, some people start denying or criticizing them. This creates a vicious cycle in which everyone stays silent because they don’t want to be denied. It is important to ensure psychological safety that “any crazy idea or stupid idea is OK” during the “divergence” time. For that reason, I think it’s good to do an ice breaker. I would like to write about ice breakers later on this blog.

3. Idea “Convergence” Techniques

It’s important to come up with a lot of ideas, but it’s not good to leave them out. You have to narrow down the ideas that can be used from the ideas that came up and connect them to effective problem solving. So here are some techniques for narrowing down your ideas.

a) Affinity mapping (Grouping, KJ method, etc.)

By now, you should have a lot of ideas on post-its. And the standard technique for “convergence” is to group similar ideas together. I’m sure many of you have done this before.

It’s called “affinity mapping” because it groups similar ideas together. It is called “grouping” as the name suggests, or also called as “KJ method”. The originator is the Japanese cultural anthropologist Jiro Kawakita, so it’s called “KJ”. Some of you may have heard this name before.

b) Payoff matrix

This payoff matrix is a tool for further prioritizing the ideas narrowed down by affinity mapping.

Vertical axis: magnitude of the benefit of implementing the idea

Horizontal axis: Degree of difficulty in implementing the idea (cost impact, technical aspects, etc.)

Create a matrix by using above axis and map the narrowed down ideas. If the effect and difficulty can be quantified, I think it can be mapped clearly, but if that is not the case, discuss with your members and make a relative difference.

As a result, I think those ideas can be mapped into 4 quadrants;

(1) Benefit: Large x Difficulty: Low

(2) Benefit: Large x Difficulty: High

(3) Benefit: Small x Difficulty: Low

(4) Benefit: Small x Difficulty: High

(1) should be implemented with the highest priority, and (4) should rejected because it is meaningless. These two are clear. And, in payoff matrix, there is a tendency to argue over which of (2) or (3) should be given priority. Well, in the end, we have to discuss and decide.

c) PICK chart

Let me share with you another tool for prioritization. That is the “PICK chart”.

PICK chart (Image)
Fig2. PICK chart (Image)

Like the payoff matrix, it is a two-axis matrix of “Benefit” x “Difficulty”. The difference is that the four quadrants have names. The “PICK” chart comes from these four initials.

(1) Benefit: Large x Difficulty: Low -> Implement Now

(2) Benefit: Large x Difficulty: High -> Plan

(3) Benefit: Small x Difficulty: Low -> Choose

(4) Benefit: Small x Difficulty: High -> Kill

The point is that these names clarify the direction of solution. Therefore, (2) and (3), which tended to be controversial in payoff matrix, will be in the order of (3) -> (2) in PICK chart. However, (3) is not to be executed without questioning, but literally “chosen (if there is a meaning)” to be executed.

All right, by now you should have a clear idea of what to do!

That’s all for this time, and I would like to continue from the next time onwards. Thank you for reading until the end.

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