How to Produce Ideas Industrially – BrainStore’s method

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Over the last 20 years a company called BrainStore has created many brilliant ideas for major companies around the world. To make this happen they developed a very succesful process called Industrial Idea Production, focusing on the co-creation of ideas. I want to take you into their proces and show some of the secrets to success.

BrainStore, based in Switzerland, has a quite special product – it sells ideas. Not design, or advertising, or brands. Just ideas. Big amounts of them. You can buy 10, 20, 30, 90 ideas for any possible question. Starting from a name (one day work) through management issues till development of new principles of folding a rooftop for a new car or even developing a new chemical formula (1-2 months). Their USP can be summarized as “A big set of ideas developed by a special mix of participants in a very quick time”.

The BrainStore process can be divided into three steps: preparation, creative workshop and selection.

1. Preparation

As soon as a contract has been signed, the project manager summarizes the goal of the project in one simple question. This question is extremely important because it will be leading for the entire project. It should be clear, catchy and inspiring for every participant (BrainStore’s employees, participants of the workshop and the client). The project manager together with a client sets two to five criteria which every idea should fulfil.

As an example let’s develop a fictional project. Let’s say: a coffee-seling company wants to develop a new cup. The main question could be “How can we innovate a coffee cup?”… but this would be to open. “What innovative features will a coffee cup have in 2020?” would be a better question, liberating your imagination much more effective.

Set of criteria could include:

  1. Will this cup impress our target audience?
  2. Could this cup be produced during the next 3 moths?
  3. Will production costs (incl. R&D part) be less than EUR 10 per cup?

And let’s say, we want to have 20 ideas after this project.

After initiation, two new professionals begin their work: a producer and a team manager. The producer devides the topic into sub-topics where the quantity of sub-topics depends on the complexity. Then he prepares a list of triggers. Topics, triggers and creative techniques are combined to form an unusual question that is intended to open mind and contributes to finding new ways of solving a problem.

  • Topic = features of a coffee cup;
  • Subtopics = bottom, handle, material, electronic features, temperature, etc.;
  • Triggers = types of coffee, other drinks, George Clooney, traditions of drinking, Facebook, speed, etc.;
  • Creative techniques = writing race, painting, Play-Doh, combining, etc.;
  • Question for a co-creation workshop = In groups of two, form out of Play-Doh;
  • all the features that a coffee cup will never have.

Concurrently, a team manager determines a list of participants for a co-creation workshop that consists of five groups:

  • Client employees: they know the topic deeply;
  • Target group representatives: they have spoken and unspoken wishes that the client is going to fulfil;
  • Lateral thinkers: they look at the topic from unusual point of view;
  • Teenagers and students: they often don’t have a clue about the topic – and therefore are open-minded. They are bold, fresh and don’t know idea killing phrases;
  • Experts: they will check the strongest ideas against set criteria, 1 expert per 1 criterion.

Lateral thinkers: They don’t have anything to do with the topic of the project directly. But when looking more generically, some parts of their job or life are closely related to the topic. Great example: For developing a foldable rooftop for a car, BrainStore invited an origami master.

Some additional preparations may be done: interviews of customers, clients or experts, internet research of existing ideas, market research on special markets like Japan, Brasilia, etc.

BrainStorm is full of ideas

BrainStorm is full of ideas

2. Creative workshop

First part of the workshop is dedicated to Creating of Content. This is a brainstorm, but a quite unusual one. It is very fast, loud and full of movement. And it is extremely mixed. All participants run trough a facility, answering questions, painting stuff, speaking with random partners… there is loud music everywhere. Every silly idea is allowed. It looks quite chaotic but is in fact well orchestrated. Note now: Every single piece of information is saved in a database: there are many people in the background typing and taking pictures of everything what comes out in a workshop.

Imagine a CEO, CFO and a junior sales manager of our coffee company cutting magazines together with a 40 year old mom, some students, an office guy, a travel manager and an Italian cook with some loud MTV music on background. After three minutes they will run trough the yard competing who writes ideas faster. After seven minutes they will draw pictures using gouache. After this stage, about 1000 “raw ideas” are expected to be produced.

Second part: Elaboration. All “raw ideas” from the first part are presented in different ways now. And it means literally – every single, even stupid thought is exhibited many times. Cloud diagrams, freshly printed “books”, every idea printed on a separate piece of paper, etc. The purpose of it is to hold the brain awake, because this part of a workshop is quiet, unhurried and serious. Participants, inspired by raw ideas from the first part, now start developing ideas related to the main question.

The facility is reorganized. There are a “library”, “park”, “cinema”, “bath”, etc. People move slowly from one place to another, searching through all the ideas from the first part and relating their ideas only to the main question: “What innovative features will a coffee cup have in 2020?”  (or to a sub-question, like “What innovative electronic features will a coffe cup have in 2020?”, “What coolness features will the coffeecups have in 2020?” or “What are green features of a coffee cup in 2020?” )
After this stage, there will be about 200 ideas ready.

3. Selection

The selection happens on two levels. On the first, every co-creation participant selects three to five favorites of all developed ideas. On the second, experts check pre-selected ideas against criteria set at the very beginning of the project.

After this part there are about 30 ideas selected.

Then winning ideas are elaborated in compliance with comments the experts have given and visualized in a comparative way, so that the essence of ideas can be understood within seconds but the picture itself has no impact on perception of an idea. Like this, the ideas are presented to the client for a next selection. Afterwards ideas are made into detailed concepts.

And so the client ends up with a selection of (hopefully) great concepts.

Top image by: Thomas Claveirole

Lena Klabukova

4 comments on this article

  1. Pingback: usabilidad, diseño, interacción, arquitectura de información - Tentándole.com :: Estimulando la creatividad: Produciendo ideas :: July :: 2009

  2. I have been following BrainStore since 2 or 3 years ago. I found it a very interesting model!! Wouldn´t be really cool to have BrainStore’s communities around the world ?? in spanish, english,etc?
    I think that Ideas can be industrially produced, but they should also have to be according to a context and background.
    “The Idea Machine” by Nadja Schneztler (cofounder of BS) is a good book!

  3. Elena on

    to Eugenia
    yeah, sure it is possible! You can organize yours – BrainStore doesn’t have anything against this, or you can contact Nadja or Markus and discuss this opportunity with them personally, they will be definitely interested!