Managing Design Innovation

with Matthew Beebe

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Encourage wild ideas

Matthew Beebe

Design & Idea Expert, User Experience, Human-Centered Design

Lessons Learned

Good brainstorming: Defer judgement. Be visual. Build on the ideas of others. Encourage wild ideas.

Brainstorming optimizes for lots of ideas.

Brainstorming is meant to be collaborative and divergent.


Lesson: Managing Design Innovation with Matthew Beebe

Step #1 Ideate: Encourage wild ideas

At IDEO, we used to run brainstorms all the time. A brainstorm is a meeting or an event that's focused on coming up with a lot of ideas. This is the primary ideation technique at IDEO. It has a bunch of rules that govern how you do it. There's preparation work, and there's follow-up work.

A brainstorm is really meant to optimize for lots of ideas. It's a little bit controversial I guess. Not everyone believes in the idea of method of brainstorming. I certainly am into it, but there's a lot of other ways to come up with ideas too.

The difference between ideation and brainstorming, I'm not sure there really is any official difference. I think brainstorming is a specific method of ideation that implies some form of collaboration and some kind of group. It is meant to be divergent. Whereas ideation, I can imagine a person sitting by themselves in a dark room and scribbling on a piece of paper under a lamp. That is a form of ideation. It's not really a brainstorm.

My approach to brainstorming is definitely informed by my experience at IDEO. I probably don't approach it as formally as I once did. It's less common in my experience since IDEO that I would have a dedicated time slot on the calendar for a bunch of people where we're going to do a "brainstorm."

Brainstorming just kind of happens in the course of a day, given whatever issues come up. Occasionally, I would do something more formal and have an event focused on solving a particular problem or coming up with a lot of ideas to address a particular issue.

The brainstorming rules at IDEO are really more the rules of the culture of IDEO. That's how of I think of it. Most of the time at work it's good if we can follow the brainstorming rules. I'll try to remember them. Defer judgment, which is often the hardest one for many places that I've been since IDEO. Be visual. Build on the ideas of others. Encourage wild ideas.

If this can just be the way that we normally operate, instead of only during these specific events that we call brainstorms, I think that you end up with better outcomes.

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