Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The idea box

This post probably isn't about a magical box that we can open and find all sorts of good ideas, although that would be a great box to have. No, this post is about the box many of us insist on putting our new ideas into, and the problems that can cause.

Raise your hand if you've been in a brainstorming or idea generation session and someone puts an idea on the table, and someone else immediately "boxes" the idea. That is, the second person attempts to shape, narrow or constrict the idea, by immediately pointing out a limitation, a possible objection or some possible constraint. This type of thinking is helpful when EVALUATING ideas, but not when generating ideas.

Don't worry, we all carry around our idea boxes with us. We use these boxes, also called our experiences, our biases and our perceptions, to shape not just ideas but everything we come in contact with. Usually these perceptions and experiences help us make good, quick decisions, but in idea generation they can very quickly kill an idea before it's had a chance to get out of its shell.

What I propose, instead, is the idea stretcher. It would be great if the first few comments and suggestions about an idea were not about limiting factors, constraints or things we've tried before, but ideas and methods and opportunities to expand the idea, to provide even more opportunity about the idea. What we should try to do with ideas when they are first conceived is not narrow them, but expand them. Let them grow and breathe for a while before attacking and boxing them in.

I get the sense that too many ideas are killed far too quickly. Killing an idea is easy, but hardly something to get recognized for. Expanding and nurturing an idea can be tough, but I think it is well worth the effort. Next time your team is brainstorming, put away the idea box and let the ideas expand to their natural limits before trying to find ways to shape them or constrain them.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:02 AM

6 Comments:

Blogger Paul (from Idea Sandbox) said...

My hand is raised!

Jeffrey... you're exactly right! In Tom Kelley's newest book "The Ten Faces of Innovation" he talks those folks who take jabs at ideas by saying... "Now let me play devil's advocate..." (quite evil).

There's an awesome book by the UK company ?WhatIf! called "Sticky Wisdom: How to Start a Creative Revolution at Work" and they agree with you as well. They call the "box" you refer to a "greenhouse" that allows new ideas some protection...

When ideas are tiny, they're like a little sprouting plant... and at that small size, you can't yet tell if the idea is a weed or a flower...

5:17 PM  
Blogger Paul (from Idea Sandbox) said...

My hand is raised!

Jeffrey... you're exactly right! In Tom Kelley's newest book "The Ten Faces of Innovation" he talks those folks who take jabs at ideas by saying... "Now let me play devil's advocate..." (quite evil).

There's an awesome book by the UK company ?WhatIf! called "Sticky Wisdom: How to Start a Creative Revolution at Work" and they agree with you as well. They call the "box" you refer to a "greenhouse" that allows new ideas some protection...

When ideas are tiny, they're like a little sprouting plant... and at that small size, you can't yet tell if the idea is a weed or a flower...

5:17 PM  
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