nearly everybody walk brainstorming wrong, Ralph Keeney says, and turns it right into an substantial waste the time. He wants to tell you how to carry out it right.

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An emeritus professor in ~ Duke’s Fuqua school of Business and a consultant to such varied organizations as the department of power and, simply last month, a German power firm with $40 billion in revenues, Keeney has committed his job to a self-control called “decision science,” helping companies and also government agencies carry focus and rigor to your decision-making procedure so that they deserve to waste much less time spinning your wheels and instead gain clear on your objectives before they shot to satisfy their goals. Thirteen years ago he penned a book, quiet in print, dubbed Value-Focused Thinking: A path to an innovative Decision-Making, which says that many corporate executives placed the cart before the horse. Instead of parsing the missions they expect to achieve, they straight their energy at coming up with remedies to broadly-stated problems.


“When most people do brainstorming, lock run everywhere the place and think outside the box,” that says. “I think they have to think inside the box—the right-sided box.”

His recent paper, published in the December problem of a journal called Decision Analysis, spells out what he believes is the right approach. In Germany for instance, the company he counseled is trying to cope with a vastly readjusted energy landscape, wherein nuclear power will be banned as of 2022, charcoal emissions restricted, and also by 2020 at the very least 20% the the company’s power must come indigenous non-carbon-emitting sources. “The company has to readjust phenomenally in order come exist 10 years out,” he says.

Instead of packing executives into a conference room and brainstorming solutions, Keeney met for one hour each through 19 height people, including the CEO. That pressed them on what they thought the company’s goals were. Then he compiled a list of 450 points the executives wanted to achieve. He take it the thousands of objectives and also boiled them under to 40 major goals, v 200 subsets. Why? Because, as his file says, prior to you brainstorm, it’s important to go through the process of analyzing and focusing on objectives. Below are Keeney’s 4 steps to reliable brainstorming:


1. Lay the end the trouble you desire to solve.

This may be less complicated said than done. Keeney describes a doctoral student that is at sea while trying to come up with a dissertation topic and advisor. The college student grasps for ideas with just the vaguest idea that a goal, stated as negatives fairly than positives. “I nothing think I could do it,” “it is not exciting to me,” “it seems too hard,” and “it would certainly be also time consuming.” Then finally someone argues an idea the doesn’t have any kind of of those negatives. The doctoral student grabs the topic. However Keeney says this is a poor way to make a major decision. Instead the student must keep pushing until they come up v at the very least five much more alternatives, and then, considering all those, “identify your objectives for your dissertation, advice the choices and select the best.” It will be fine worth the effort.

2. Identify the missions of a feasible solution.

This is what Keeney did for the German energy agency and what he’s done because that several federal government agencies, including the department of landscape Security and the power department. It’s not easy and also it bring away time but if friend can approach your objectives critically and also hone in on what you want to achieve, her brainstorming session will be much more effective.

Keeney supplies a great example that this process. David Kelley, the founder the renowned architecture firm IDEO, wanted to architecture a product the would permit cyclists come transport and also drink coffee if they to be riding. A pair of methods to describe what he wanted to design: “spill-proof coffee cup lids,” or “bicycle cup holders.” however a much better description is the complying with objective: “helping bicycle commuters to drink coffee without spilling that or burning their tongues.” Keeney likes this statement since it clearly lays out IDEO’s objectives, to assist bike commuters 1) drink coffee, 2) protect against spills, 3) no burn your tongues. He even contributes a couple of objectives of his own: protect against distractions if biking, don’t contribute to accidents, store the coffee hot and also minimize costs. Going into that much detail before brainstorming about ways to design the cup holder renders IDEO much much more likely come succeed.


3. Try to generate options individually.

Before heading into a group brainstorming session, institutions should firmly insist that staffers first try come come up through their own solutions. One problem with group brainstorming is that once we hear who else’s equipment to a problem, we tend to see it as what Keeney calls an “anchor.” In various other words, we acquire stuck on the objective and potential systems to the exclusion of various other goals. For instance, when Keeney was consulting v a cabinet phone maker years ago, the company had numerous objectives. It want to produce a lightweight call that likewise had general practitioners capabilities (Keeney go this consulting gig some time ago, but he insists the example remains illustrative). When agency executives obtained together to brainstorm ideas around how to develop a better phone, one person brought up the issue of weight. Suddenly everyone came to be fixated on the idea and forgot about their other objectives. Coming into a meeting through potential options reduces the danger that participants will gain bogged under on one objective.

4. When you have obtained clear on your problems, her objectives and also your an individual solutions to the problems, occupational as a group.

Though the acknowledges that it’s a difficulty not to “anchor” on one systems in a brainstorming session, Keeney believes the if participants have done your homework, clarifying the problem, identifying objectives, and also individually trying come come up through solutions, a brainstorming session deserve to be extremely productive.

At the end of the paper, he describes a 2008 workshop he organized to try to come increase with methods to boost evacuations in big buildings in situation of a terrorist attack, based on a referral from the national Institute that Standards and also Technology. Keeney brainstormed for two-and-a-half days with 30 world with field of expertise in everything from firefighting and also building codes to handicapped people and human behavior. The result, after going with Keeney’s four-step process: a list of 300 new alternative methods to speed evacuation. Climate the participants evaluated the numerous ideas, which consisted of using cell phone alarms come guide civilization to exits and also building linked sky bridges ~ above every fifth floor. The hope, of course, is that these solutions will never be tested. But Keeney’s brainstorming method helped the group discover effective suggestions.

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In February 2018, ns took ~ above a brand-new job managing and writing lennythewonderdog.net" education coverage. I"d spent the previous 2 years ~ above the entrepreneurs team, following six years composing for the management channel. Mine mission with education and learning is to discover the intersection of education and business. I"m recruiting contributors and also looking for my very own stories. I’ve gone to lennythewonderdog.net since 1995, writing about everything from publications to billionaires. Amongst my favourite stories: southern Africa’s very first black billionaire, Patrice Motsepe, and British diamond jewel mogul Laurence Graff, both of whom built their vast fortunes native nothing. At lennythewonderdog.net newspaper I also did a stint modifying the way of life section and I offered to edit opinion piece by the likes of john Bogle and Gordon Bethune. I obtained my task at lennythewonderdog.net with a brilliant libertarian economist, Susan Lee, whom I supplied to put on television at MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Prior to that I covered law and also lawyers because that journalistic stickler, harsh taskmaster and the finest teacher a young reporter can have had, Steven Brill.