Boise State on Business

Gundars Kaupins: Successful brainstorming has no room for criticism

Professor of management, College of Business and Economics at Boise State UniversityMay 21, 2014 

Gundars Kaupins.JPG

Gundars Kaupins


Quick. Write down "20 different uses of a pencil."

Let's see. Writing utensil. Hair curler. Balloon popper. Guided missile. Children's toy. Back scratcher. Miniature baseball bat. Chopstick. Firewood. Conversation piece. Idea starter…..

Stop. Instead of writing a list, why not just write "20 different uses of a pencil" and be done? Twenty different uses don't actually have to be found.

Brainstorming means getting out of the box and expanding to new horizons. Idaho has had plenty of examples. Former Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier preferred to put blue turf rather than green in Bronco Stadium. The turf has been an icon for the Broncos and Boise State ever since. J.R. Simplot developed the first frozen french fry. Gregory Carr founded the first tech company to sell voice mail to telephone companies. Folks in Rigby honor Philo Farnsworth, inventor of television.

There are plenty of places to honor and nurture inventors in Idaho. Some organizations include the Idaho National Laboratory's Inventor's Hall of Fame, Inventors Association of Idaho, Young Inventors, and the Idaho Innovation Awards.

The awards recently provided company innovation awards to Kount, which protects companies from online fraud. The innovation of the year award went to CradlePoint's Enterprise Client Manager, which is involved with wireless networking over a wide area. The innovator of the year award went to David Cohen, CEO of FieldSync Mobile Solutions, which provides cloud-based technology tools.

One of the biggest secrets to innovation is to not criticize any thoughts regardless of what supervisors or others might think.

So you think literally writing "20 different uses of a pencil" is cheating the initial assignment? According to brainstormers, no way. Here are other ways to "cheat." How about marking 20 different papers, putting an "x" on 20 different states on a map, sharing a pencil with 20 different people, or just showing a pencil to a crowd and hoping that at least 20 people will see it?

Is that cheating? Oops. I should not have said that. The main idea is to not criticize yourself (or others) while brainstorming.

Another brainstorming idea is to be inspired by anything. This article was sparked by an innovative play I saw on NFL Sunday Night Football between Houston and Indianapolis. I don't remember the play anymore, but it was enough to get the topic started.

Anything means anything. A spark could be a comment from a friend, a double bogie on a golf hole, a friend's blue shirt collar, or dust in the corner of the room. That dust could lead to a new potato-processing innovation or ways to do cloud computing.

Much brainstorming can be done solo - at 3 a.m. after a dream, after hours of thought, during a shower or whenever. If done in groups, the key is to make sure that others' ideas are not criticized. If there is a neat idea - let's say "make the object blue" - then build on that idea. Why not put in blue stripes, squares, starts, circles? And so on. Wild ideas should be welcome, because they can lead to triggers in people's minds that are out of the box.

In summary, the keys to brainstorming are to not criticize your ideas or others' ideas; to derive inspiration from anything, anywhere, and anytime; to build on other's ideas; and to accept even wild ideas.

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