Monday, May 23, 2011

How to Invent: Reverse Brainstorming (part 4). Problem selection.

The second half of Reverse Brainstorming is Problem Selection.  By the end of the session, we have to select problems that are worth solving, i.e. the problems that are worth our investment of time, money, and effort. Everything else (like 95%) is noise.

Here's a couple of diagrams illustrating the outcome of the session:

As you can see, numbered problems from the list created during the first part are first assigned Value and Timing, then sorted accordingly. Since the Value dimension invokes many questions from participants, I'll have to explain it in a separate post.

On the other hand, Timing is understood intuitively. Nevertheless, it is still important to make sure everybody has the same frame of reference. For some people, like a startup product organization, short-term means six months; for others, like a nanotech research group, short-term means six years. To avoid confusion, both short-(ST) and long-term (LT) terms have to be defined before problem evaluation, e.g. ST = 1year, LT = 5years.

One important consideration to keep in mind, though. You, as the session moderator, have to have a more sophisticated understanding of timing because when it comes to invention most simple intuitive notions, even the familiar ones like timing, tend to be wrong.

Let me explain. Time measured in calendar years reflects periods of rotation of the Earth around the Sun: 1 year - one rotation, 5 years - five rotations. Unless your group is dealing with agricultural products or services, which depend on Sun patterns, the Earth's rotation has almost no connection with invention and innovation. I say almost, because we do have major purchasing seasons, e.g. Christmas, Chinese New Year, Back to School, etc. Nevertheless, real timing has nothing to do with the rotation of the Earth. Rather, orthogonal to our everyday thinking, innovation timing has to do with technology or business constraints. That is, short-term means we are working inside a set of constraints, while long-term means we've managed to break through at least some of them.

If you have time during the session, it might be a good idea to convey to the group the concept of timing as constraint-related, rather than calendar-related. Often, it gets people thinking outside of the box their intuitive mindset and leads to a better understanding of Value and problems that prevent us from getting to it.

tags: reverse brainstorming,  reverse brainstorm, book, course, stanford, constraints, time, high value.

Previous posts on Reverse Brainstorming Howto:
1. How to Invent: Reverse Brainstorming.
2. It may look like this.
3. Concept Diagram: Reverse vs Traditional Brainstorming

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