Better Brainstorming: How to Improve Quick and Dirty Idea Reviews

Quick and dirty idea reviews, used to efficiently process the wealth of ideas generated in the typical corporate brainstorming sessions, may unwittingly throw away some valuable ideas. Here are several ways to avoid that mistake, according to Jeffrey Baumgartner.

A good brainstorming event can easily generate 50 or 100 ideas. An ideas campaign in a large enterprise can generate many more. As a result, the initial idea review is what we might call a quick and dirty elimination round (Q&DER) in which a team of evaluators read each idea. They quickly decide which ideas to retain for further evaluation and development and which ideas to dispose of immediately.

Unfortunately, there are two innovation threats in such Q&DERs:

  1. Lack of defined criteria for determining which ideas should be retained and which should be eliminated
  2. Not considering obvious methods of counteracting the weaknesses that cause an idea to be eliminated

Lack of defined criteria

Whenever people are reviewing a list of ideas for viability, they have some criteria in their minds. In a business environment, these criteria are likely to include budget, saleability, time-frames and the like. However, if the criteria are left unspoken, there are two dangers:

  1. If there are multiple reviewers, they may have differing criteria sets in their minds. As a result, ideas are subject to a harsher first analysis which is overly likely to see off potentially good ideas. Imagine there are four evaluators each with three differing criteria on her mind. As a result, any idea would need to pass all 12 criteria (4 evaluators X 3 criteria each) in order to be considered for further analysis. And that further analysis might well be less rigorous than the Q&DER!
  2. One or more reviewers may have inappropriate criteria in mind. For instance, imagine an ideas campaign seeking new product solutions. Senior management may not care so much about the cost of implementing the ideas as do about the return on investment (ROI) of the ideas. However, if evaluators are eliminating ideas they believe are too expensive, they may kill off potential new product ideas that offer tremendous ROI, albeit for a high initial investment.

Fortunately, the solution to this problem is obvious: clarify your elimination criteria prior to the Q&DER. Moreover, ensure that anyone involved in the Q&DER is clear about the criteria.

Counteracting obvious weaknesses in ideas

Imagine you are part of a team evaluating new software ideas for mobile telephones. You generate a lot of ideas and need to do a Q&DER. Your Q&DER criterion is that ideas should be viable on a standard mobile telephone unit. Here are some of the ideas:

  • Notepad for making notes.
  • Application for finding friends in the area.
  • E-book application so people could read books.
  • Possibility to control heating/cooling devices in your home

Chances are you would dismiss the e-book application idea as being non-viable. After all telephone screens are too small to display more than a few words, resolution is poor and it would be irritating to have to scroll through an entire book.

But what about audio books? They form a huge and growing market. Friends of mine who commute by car to work listen to audio books on their car CD players. Would it not be even more convenient to carry the audio book in a telephone so that the user could listen to it whenever she has some spare time – and not just in her car?

Surely, then, the book application deserves a more thorough evaluation. But it would be unlikely to get that evaluation in an elimination round – particularly if there are 100 ideas to consider.

Even the best criteria sets are not perfect

In this example, there was nothing wrong with the Q&DER criterion. The problem was that the idea – as originally stated – did not meet the criterion. However, with only minor modification the idea would have passed.

In fact, such elimination of potentially viable ideas happens frequently, not only in quick and dirty reviews, but also in formal evaluations simply because evaluators see their roles as being exclusively critics.

But they are not critics. Indeed, can you imagine having a team in your company called the “Idea Criticism Committee?” No. Evaluators are evaluators – that’s we call them that!

Again, the solution to the problem is simple. Rather than simply reviewing ideas on a pass-fail basis, evaluators in the Q&DER should review each idea following three simple steps:

  1. Does it meet the criteria? If so, it passes.
  2. If not, MIGHT there be a way to change the failing point(s) so that it meets the criteria? If so, it passes.
  3. If the idea fails both of the above, it is eliminated.

And the final rule of quick and dirty idea reviews is: if you are not sure whether or not an idea can be made to pass a criteria set, don’t eliminate it. Once an idea is eliminated, it is quickly forgotten. On the other hand, if it does not pass a more structured evaluation later, the questionable idea can still be eliminated at that time.

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

About the author

Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a new approach to achieving goals through creativity.