3.1 Ideation & Brainstorming

Chapter 3.1
Additional Resources

Brainstorming is one of the most stimulating and enjoyable steps in the biodesign innovation process.  However, as explained in Chapter 3.1, a thoughtful, structured approach should be used to obtain optimal results.  The steps below have been excerpted from the chapter and are presented with active web links to assist innovators in getting started.

Understand Basic Ideation and Brainstorming Concepts
  1. What to Cover – Be sure that all team members share a common understanding of key ideation and/or brainstorming processes and rules. Agree on the approach that will be used to address the need defined in the team’s need specification(s).
  2. Where to Look
    • Tom Kelley, The Art of Innovation (New York: Currency/Doubleday, 2001).
    • Stefan Thornke and Ashok Ninigade, IDEO Product Development (Harvard Business School, 2000).

Define the Topic
  1. What to Cover – Define a topic that clearly lays out the scope of the session. The topic should identify the core need or problem being investigated without giving the group any preconceived notions about what the “right” solution might be.
  2. Where to Look – Refer to the need specification defined as part of 2.5 Needs Filtering as a starting point.

Identify Participants
  1. What to Cover – Identify individuals who are creative, can bring interesting, insightful viewpoints, are open-minded, and will represent a diversity of perspectives. Strike a balance between “experts” and more general but creative contributors, and be certain that different functional areas are represented (clinical, engineering, business).
  2. Where to Look – A group of four to seven people is ideal for brainstorming, not including the facilitator and scribe. The inventors hosting the session should leverage their personal networks to identify brainstorming participants.

Identify a Facilitator
  1. What to Cover – Based on the topic being discussed and the participants who will attend, choose a facilitator with enough subject matter knowledge to command respect, but not so much that s/he will unduly bias or otherwise influence the group. Be sure the facilitator is well versed in the brainstorming rules and (whenever possible) has experience leading successful brainstorming sessions.
  2. Where to Look – The inventors hosting the session should also leverage their personal networks to identify an appropriate facilitator. Professional innovation and idea creation consulting firms, such as IDEO and Phillips+Co., can be hired to lead formal brainstorming sessions for inventors and companies with access to adequate funding.

Prepare for the Session
  1. What to Cover – Meet with the facilitator to ensure his/her understanding of the session’s topic and to agree on the desired outcome. Identify an appropriate location and decide on an approach for conducting the meeting (white boards, flip charts, sticky notes, etc.). Put together and distribute pre-reading materials for all participants to review before the session, including the brainstorming rules. Pull together appropriate “props” to stimulate thinking in the meeting and plan the warm-up exercise. Identify scribes to take notes and prepare them for this role.
  2. Where to Look
    • Location – If available, book a brainstorming room. Keep in mind, however, that any area will do, as long as there is ample space, the right supplies, and an environment in which the group will not be distracted.
    • Widgets and Medical Props – Bring modeling clay, Legos, pipe cleaners, and other materials to help stimulate creativity. Companies such as the Anatomical Chart Company, the Anatomy Warehouse, EduGraphics.net, or Anatomy Resources.com sell anatomical charts and 3-D anatomical models. Other medical-related supplies can be purchased from companies such as Surgical Medical Instruments Corporation. Animal organs and bones can typically be purchased inexpensively from a local butcher supply.

Conduct the Session
  1. What to Cover – Execute the plan that has been developed, enforce the brainstorming rules, and stay within the allotted time (60-90 minutes). During and immediately after the session, record all ideas generated. Remember to capture the results by gathering the flip chart sheets and crude prototypes and/or taking digital pictures of the whiteboards, props, etc., beyond the notes taken by the scribe. Consider taking a photo of the team during one of the brainstorming sessions to show later at the dinner celebrating the FDA approval of the device!
  2. Where to Look – Refer back to the brainstorming rules to help keep the session on track.


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