How Do You Generate Great Ideas?

Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs by Bryan W. Mattimore, Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA (2012). 244 + x pages, $26.95.

Idea Stormers by Bryan Mattimore is s a terrific reference for any manager or leader trying to find creative solutions for engineering or business problems. What I particularly liked about Idea Stormers (as compared to other books on brainstorming) is that the suggested techniques recognize that people are stimulated to generate ideas in different ways. Another strength of this book is the number of quality recommendations to assist any facilitator to design and schedule a successful ideation session.

Brainstorming vs. ideation

Recently, ideation has replaced brainstorming in the creative leader's vocabulary. While it might seem to be just a change in jargon or buzzwords, there really is a difference between brainstorming and ideation. While the former concentrates on quantity of ideas generated, ideation focuses also on quality of ideas. Secondly, ideation also values the individual contribution to the group's collaborative thought process.

For example, the author describes a technique called "brainwriting" in Chapter 2 that is especially well-suited for engineers. In this group ideation technique, people spend a few minutes by themselves jotting down ideas to solve a problem on a sheet of paper. Next, papers are passed around and people add ideas on their new sheet or build off ideas already written down by others. This technique allows everyone to be "heard" and capitalizes on group collaboration at the same time.

A technique well-suited to engineers

Another ideation technique that is great for engineers, described in Chapter 6, is called the "billboard technique." As engineers, we tend to speak with a lot of jargon and often assume others have the same knowledge base as we do. (I can't tell you how many times I've asked my electrical engineer husband to interrupt his story and translate terms so that I, a chemical engineer, can understand what he's saying.) In ideation, we want stories and anecdotes, not tech talk!

The billboard technique forces scientists to decompose their ideas into three simple, concise points (p. 135):

  1. A headline or tag line,
  2. A visual, and
  3. A call to action.

Leading the creative process

Finally, the most valuable section of Mattimore's book comprises Chapters 7 through 9, "Thinking Like a Facilitating Leader." In these chapters, he lays out the who, where, and how of planning an ideation session in Part I. Part II follows with a sample schedule for a one-and-a-half day ideation session. Concluding, Part III offers a potpourri of ideation tips and combinations of techniques that give wide-ranging creative freedom to the facilitator to help plan an energizing ideation session.

I enjoyed reading Idea Stormers as it sparked my creative problem-solving abilities. It also will help me in my daily work as a consultant and trainer to help others reach a new creative high. I recommend Idea Stormers to any engineer striving to enhance creativity and idea generation at his/her company.

What is your favorite technique for generating ideas?


Teresa, Just saw this. Thanks for a great review. Best Regards, Bryan Mattimore Growth Engine (203) 857-4494