By remembering a few basic rules of brainstorming, you can improve your idea generating sessions significantly – i. e. how a seemingly foolish idea developed into a great innovation!
In the Internet, you can find quite easily a documented case of Pacific Power and Light Electric Company’s brainstorming session. In this session they were trying to solve a problem that had troubled the company for a long time: ice storms accumulated lots of ice on the power lines. If there was too much ice on the power lines, the weight of the ice would cut off the lines. Pacific Power and Light Electric Company had been looking for a solution to this problem several times in the past, but no feasible solution had been found. The only effective way to remove the ice from of power lines was to send technicians to climb up the poles to shake the lines so heavily, that the ice would fall down. This was, however, expensive and dangerous way to remove ice from the lines.
The company needed to find a more efficient and safer way to remove accumulated ice from the power lines. As a consequence, they started to think about the problem once again. This time a superior and completely new solution was found. It all started by one of the maintenance men mentioning having met a bear while working in the woods. After this, someone came up with an idea that the company should train the bears in the woods to shake the electric poles to drop the ice from the power lines. When thinking how the bears could be motivated to shake the electric poles, someone suggested that they should put jars of honey at the top of the poles. This would make the bears to climb up the poles, which in turn would shake the poles sufficiently to knock off the ice. Then somebody said, with laughter, that they could use helicopters to place the jars of honey at top of the poles after ice storms, so that the bears would climb up the poles only when needed. At this stage, a secretary who had been serving as a nurse in the Vietnam War said, that the down wash from the helicopter blades was amazingly strong. She wondered if just flying low over the power lines with a helicopter would knock off the ice. Everybody realized in the blink of an eye, that this would be the solution to the problem!
Why did they find a brilliant solution to the problem this time, although in the past they had not been successful? They certainly had good luck, but there were also other important factors behind the success:
1) The group doing the brainstorming group was diverse from different parts of the organisation with know-how across the entire business. Previous sessions around the problem had been held only with the maintenance men and their managers.
2) Crazy ideas could be proposed, and they were not criticized.
3) The ideas were developed further, i.e. new ideas were built on earlier ideas.
As a result of these 3 factors, a bear mentioned by chance, lead to the break through idea of using helicopters!
By keeping in mind the above listed three, you can improve significantly the likelihood of a successful brainstorming session!