Rick Boersma

Is your workplace completely out of fresh, innovative ideas?

If so, you’re probably not the only one who dreads brainstorming sessions.

After all, when people are stressed out and completely unenergized, it’s difficult to “think harder.”

Did you ever consider, though, that the problem might not be the people doing the brainstorming, but the brainstorming process itself?

Here’s why.

Put simple, the human brain is not a blank slate: it comes pre-loaded with data, experiences and emotions.

So, to be truly innovative, it’s not enough to rely on the usual brainstorming methods (which generally involve sitting around a conference table and waiting for inspiration to just happen).

What you need is something to jump-start the brain and make people see a problem—or, put more positively, an opportunity—in a completely different light.

And that can be done with related and unrelated stimuli.

How to integrate stimuli into your brainstorming process
Let’s say your workplace has a problem with a specific business process.

For example, your customers aren’t paying their invoices as quickly as you’d like—which means employees aren’t getting paid on time.

1.  Look at the problem from afar

Start by looking at the problem in broad terms. How can you improve the customer invoicing process, to ensure your business gets paid more promptly? You may come up with ideas like:

  • calling your customers at the end of every month; or
  • creating a marketing-communications campaign to remind them of the importance of paying on time; or
  • threatening to sue (just kidding).

But these aren’t innovative ideas—they’re not specific objectives, and they don’t really push the boundaries at all. 

2.  Push your idea further...with related stimuli

Related stimuli are related to your problem. Consider interesting features of things you’ve heard or seen about:

  • invoicing best practices in your industry; or
  • stories of other companies with highly successful invoicing programs; or
  • invoices you’ve received yourself, which have caught your attention.

What is novel about these best practices or programs? Does anything stand out to you, that you could integrate into and help improve your own business invoicing processes?

3.  Now, push your idea even further...with unrelated stimuli

Here’s where the fun really starts.

Look around you for a random object completely unrelated to your problem.

Let’s say you’re at your desk, and you notice that banana you set aside for mid-afternoon snack. Consider, and then list, the characteristics of that banana, such as:

  • Yellow
  • Biodegradable
  • Edible
  • Curved
  • Slippery (the peel, that is)

The challenge now is to use some of those attributes as prompts to brainstorm new, innovative ideas.

Remember: you need customers to pay their invoices more promptly. Here are a couple examples where you could apply the banana’s attributes to that problem:

  • Make your invoicing process more “slippery”—or, help invoices move through the system faster. An idea may be to take your current process and convert it into a Google Doc that everyone (your business and customers alike) can access simultaneously, regardless of location.
  • Make your invoice “yellow”—well, not necessarily yellow, but make it jump out more visually. Consider different colours, formatting, and other ways to make it more vibrant and fun. If you can make your invoice stand out among all the others your customer receives, you may be able to make payment more front-of-mind.

I cannot overemphasize how important related and unrelated stimuli are to coming up with innovative ideas for your business.

And not only is it a practical method—but it can be a lot of fun too!

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