Brainstorming for business ideas is an essential part of finding the right niche for your business. Unfortunately most people approach brainstorming the wrong way.
Most people start out brainstorming for solutions to a broadly laid out problem instead of trying to understand the problem first.
I see this all the time at the doctoral level where students try to implement a great solution before they identify the problem. There are tons of great solutions out there, but you need to pinpoint the problem you are trying to solve first. To do this you need to start by brainstorming your objectives.
Instead of saying you want to develop a program for patients with Problem A, start with laying out the objectives of the problem. For example: let’s say the overarching problem may be readmission rates for stroke patients are very high. Most people will start brainstorming different interventions to reduce stroke admissions. I would argue that this logic is a pure crap-shoot. You may accidently hit on a good solution, but that is not the way you want to run a business!
Here are 4 tips to focus your brainstorming to get the most out of your time.
1. Lay out the problem you want to solve.
Then look at it from different angles, talk to other people about the problem, or look for parallel problems in different industries. What would Amazon do if a particular product had a high rate of return? Try mind mapping around a solution. This is particularly good for visual learners. Put the goal in the center of a white board (or whatever) then start creating subcategories. Create as many subcategories as you can.
You will start to see some commonalities but at the same time you will have the visual opportunity for innovation. Finally, consider reverse brainstorming. This approach works well for attorneys. They consider what most people would assume and then figure out ways to do the opposite.
Ask yourself – “How could I stop this goal from occurring?” Taking the above example of stroke readmissions – consider how you could increase stroke readmissions. It may be easier and a lot more fun to think about how you can cause the problem you are trying to solve, but inadvertently you will start to map out key processes that you can intervene upon.
2. Identify the objectives of a possible solution before brainstorming.
Now let’s attack a solution and reverse engineer some objectives. Sticking with our example, the solution is to reduce stroke readmissions within 30 days of hospitalization. The objective could be: “helping stroke patients stay healthy at home for the first 30 days after hospitalization”.
Just the rewording of this objective from the solution opens up a lot of questions. Such as what does healthy at home mean? What does staying at home mean? I would qualify this objectives with more objectives to achieve clarity of what you want to do, but you can see how this opens up a whole new set of solutions that might not have been thought of by addressing the solution and not the objective.
You could attack the healthy at home objective by providing in-home medical services or in-home environmental assessments, concierge services such as making appointments, dealing with insurance companies, or even in-home cardiac healthy meals delivered, in home personal training or streaming exercise videos, etc. This list could go on and on.
3. Try to generate solutions by yourself first
I think it’s really important to think through a problem and a solution by yourself first. It is too easy to lose track of your own thoughts when you hear someone else’s solution. It’s like writing a paper. When you read other people’s work, it seems like there is no other way to say it than the way you just read it, right?
Generate brainstorming solutions on your own first to avoid the anchor phenomenon in a group.
This phenomenon has been coined as the “anchor”. Once a decent solution has been offered in a group setting, people tend to get fixated on the “anchor” solution as the only possible solution. So work by yourself first and come up with some solid objectives and solutions first. Then work in a group.
4. Once you have your objectives and individual solutions, work in a group
Group interaction and feedback is essential. You don’t live in a bubble and neither should your work. Presumably your business will affect other people, so you should seek their input. Once you have some good thoughts collected on your own, find a few friends to talk out the problem, the objectives of the problem and some solutions.
Having the privilege of a different perspective can really inform your product or service to the nth degree. Just like the group anchor, you will eventually get to a point where you are having trouble seeing past your own individual anchor solution as well. The combination of individual and group brainstorming is powerful.