How many brainstorming sessions have you participated in during your career? Since Alex Osborn introduced brainstorming in his 1953 book Applied Imagination, it has grown into a cottage industry. There are countless books, websites and organizations advising us on how to optimize brainstorming sessions, craft creative spaces and employ different storming techniques. Google “effective brainstorming” and you’ll receive more than 8 million results!
Our reliance on brainstorming, though, has led us astray. We spend hours generating as many creative ideas as possible believing that one of these ideas will lead to an innovative breakthrough. The problem? Brainstorming doesn’t lead to innovation. It’s a myth.
In its broadest sense, innovative requires 3 steps: identify the problem, generate ideas and evaluate solutions. When we jump to brainstorming, we skip the crucial step of considering our situation from multiple perspectives. We make assumptions and cut off possibilities. We limit ourselves before we even begin developing ideas.
GoPro demonstrated how crucial it is to identify the problem before brainstorming. When the company started, they could have framed their goal as developing photo/video cameras for extreme sports enthusiasts. Their brainstorming would then have focused on meeting the consumer definition of a “good” camera - high-quality, image stabilized footage - in action-filled situations.
Instead, they began by reframing the problem. They defined the issue as helping extreme sports enthusiasts reproduce as much of their experience as possible. They concentrated their brainstorming on capturing authentic, live footage during even the most extreme sporting moments. The result was a line of cutting-edge camera mounts. And it was these camera mounts that allowed GoPro to create an entirely new market for action cameras.
Competitors, who continued to define the problem in terms of traditional camera requirements, saw no threat from a more expensive camera that produced lower-quality images. They ignored the market for years. By the time Sony and others turned their attention to action cameras, GoPro was the market leader with a legion of loyal fans.
Brainstorming is a valuable (and fun!) technique. But it will only lead to innovation when it is conducted within a larger effort that begins by framing the problem.