How to Brainstorm Effectively

Most people suck at Brainstorming.  Most companies suck at Brainstorming.  Through experience and study I have collected a set of ideas/methods that will teach you how to Brainstorm Effectively.

Brainstorming is the process of thinking up new ideas for a challenging problem or question.  Usually, the problem has already been considered for some time, but the answer is not obvious, or is out of bounds of some constraints.

Effectiveness in Brainstorming means that the number of ideas generated were high, and that at least one idea was selected as a good one, and that when implemented, the idea worked to solve the problem/question.

Here’s my collection of ideas for how to Brainstorm effectively:

  1. Choose a Diverse group with as many Experts as possible to help you Brainstorm.  People with Diverse backgrounds, diverse life experiences, and from diverse cultures will bring more unique ideas. Experts are people with 10,000 hours of experience in their field.  In business, at least one person with Marketing Expertise, and at least one person with Engineering Expertise is ideal.
  2. Get in the right frame of mind: Have everyone on the team do something to try to get them into a creative frame of mind.  Stretch, go to a fun location, play a game, think like you are a kid… something.  BRAINSTORMING IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!!!  (Fun unleashes creativity).
  3. First ask everyone to Brainstorm Individually.  Have them write at least 3 ideas and send it to you.
  4. Now schedule a meeting (at least 2 hours, 3 hours is ideal; and have it span a lunch hour).  Plan to bring in food or go out as a group.  [this downtime is essential to the creative process]
  5. Open the meeting with “THE BRAINSTORMING RULES”… (write them on the wall)
    1. You MAY NOT Criticize ideas or even say “I like that”… save all comments till the end of the Brainstorming.  WRITE: “No Criticism”
    2. However, you CAN AND SHOULD build on ideas that others have put forth.  Write: “Build on Ideas”
    3. You SHOULD say many ideas, no matter how crazy.  Write: “Quantity and Crazy Desired”
    4. Keep it “light” and Fun!  Write: “Make it Fun”
  6. Start Phase 1 (out of two): 
    1. Write some of the ideas that people had individually on the board.
    2. For 30min to 1hr… ask the group to throw out ideas… and write them on the board.  If people get stuck, ask the question differently, or ask about a sub-part of the question… don’t give up after just a few minutes.. force the team to give ideas for the full time.
    3. Break for lunch…  [eat as a group]
    4. Resume the Brainstorm for an additional 30min to 1hr.  (because of the break, there is likely to be another burst of good ideas!).
    5. If the board gets filled… take a picture and clear some space and keep going.
  7. Finish now with Phase 2:
    1. Ask the team to vote for their favorite ideas…  let them pick three, put a * next to the idea for every vote cast.  During this phase, ENCOURAGE DISCUSSION about the ideas (but not about ‘who gave what idea’).  Remind the team that its not about ‘who’s idea is better’… only than that ‘we’ got to a good idea.
    2. Now look at the board… what is the best answer?  Is it feasible?  If not, why?  Either brainstorm on how to make it feasible, or see if the 2nd best idea is better in light of considering Feasibility.
I hope this helps in your Brainstorming!  Let me know if you try this and it works?  Also let me know what you do, if it’s different than my ideas here.

Presenting at Austin GDC 2009, and why Engineers should be Experts.

Last week I had the honor of presenting at Austin Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2009. Out of hundreds of idea submissions many months ago, I was chose to present to game developers on the topic: Lag, The Barrier to Innovation. My presentation was recorded and the slides can be seen/downloaded here. I’ll post the audio as soon as its available. Not only was it great fun to present to AGDC 2009, it was extremely fruitful. Engineers take note: you should become known as ‘the guy who knows x’ (or some might say, ‘the expert in x’)… it can only help you. In fact, the axiom I tend to follow is: helping others helps yourself.

It wasn’t easy to be selected to speak. It took me 4 years of trying. I began submitting ideas to speak at Austin GDC in 2004 (for GDC 2005). At first I just submitted 1 presentation topic. What I learned though is that submitting more than one presentation topic (even if they were related), would allow the selection committee to pick the best, rather than decide ‘if’ I should present. Once that was known, my task was to get others (selection committee and generally others in the industry) to believe I was a.) an authority on a subject, and b.) a good speaker. So, starting in 2005, I began speaking at smaller conferences, whenever I could. Especially so if they were in my home town of Austin. I also took an active role in my field, developing white papers and commentary on the subject (in my case Lag). I eventually developed friendships with many in the industry and people knew me as an ‘exuberant’ speaker. While I’d still love to speak at GDC in San Francisco, I’m happy to have gotten to speak at Austin GDC in 2009. Thanks again to the Selection Committee for choosing me to present, it was a blast and an honor.

Here is why you should become a speaker as well:

1.) Its good to give back. If you have gained knowledge through study, research, development, and pain… giving back and helping others to NOT have as much pain, feels good, and is generally good for the community.

2.) Build your network! Without exception, whenever I speak, a line of very interested (and interesting) people form to have a quick chat and exchange business cards. If nothing else, you’ve got a few new LinkedIn contacts! Sometimes, as with all networking, great things will come in the future from these connections.

3.) Build your cachet. It does not hurt your personal reputation to be the guy who has spoken at XYZ conference. In fact it helps it. Even if your company has NOTHING to benefit from you speaking, do it anyways for your own career future.

There are more reasons of course, including pride, the fun to wear a ‘speaker’ badge, specific company goals, the cool speaker gifts (this year at GDC Austin 2009, we were given a nice glass with GDC Austin 2009 Speaker on it, and a REALLY cool ice-tray with space invaders on it!)…. the list goes on.

A few general thoughts from the show: it was much smaller than last year (THANK GOODNESS)… being smaller it felt less corporate, and more about the developers. It was JUST the right size. The presentations were all EXCELLENT (at least all that I saw)… even Tuesday’s Casual Games Summit was well done… awesome even. The Chotsky was weak. (nobody gave out anything cool I could see, got a T-Shirt and a pack of cards… but it’s not really the point of the show). I missed the free beer… not sure they did that or not, but they should do that every day. SODA POP SHOULD Be CHEAPER. That’s about it. My 2 key learnings were: Over 13,000 Servers to run WoW!!!! and a Viral Coefficient is a way to measure how viral something is:

Viral Coefficient
Vk = V1 x V2 x V3
(building successful apps)
V1 = % of users doing invite over a period.
V2 = Potency (how many invites per user)
V3 = % of people who try based on the invites.

V2 = most important acoording to Facebook…
I have a different view.