When faced with a specific business issue, a common reflex is to organize a brainstorm session. Although individuals can come up with the same amount of workable solutions as a group of people, brainstorm sessions have social benefits. Participants are usually happy with the process and its results, which unites them as a group and (given good process management) fosters swift implementation of formed solutions.
This means that it is wise to carefully manage the group make-up. Which group of people in the organization needs team building? Who are the (internal and external) stakeholders that will be involved with realizing the brainstorm’s output? Involving all relevant stakeholders will greatly improve the acceptance of the brainstorm’s output and the success rate of its implementation.
Co-create with the target group
However, involving relevant stakeholders will not have any targeted effects on the relevance of the brainstorm’s output for the organization’s end-users. Whenever a business issue involves the end-users’ experience of its solution, target group expertise is needed during the brainstorm session. It is our conviction that this should not (only) be target group expertise in the form of a target group expert, but collaboration with the target group itself.
Adding representative target group members to a brainstorm session means adding their unique experiences and perspective, which combined with the expertise and knowledge of the other participants will yield out-of-the-box, relevant solutions.
Then why are there so many brainstorms in which the organization’s end-users are NOT participants? We feel that this is usually a result of habit. For many organizations, it is a new notion to give end-users a central role, let alone to actively engage them in brainstorms around important business issues. Usually, there has been such a long history of brainstorming without end-users, that involving them is simply not considered as an option.
Next to habit, fear can play a role. Organizations may be afraid to share sensitive information with end-users or are afraid that they may negatively impact the creative process. The first fear will usually arise when the end-users’ profile resembles that of the organization’s employees and/or founders; the latter when the end-users’ profile greatly differs (‘alien target groups’). When end-users are for instance lower educated housewives or young children, a preconceived notion may be that they will have ‘nothing to add’ to a brainstorm or that they will make uneducated remarks that will slow down the creative process.
Based on our experience we believe that ‘alien target groups’ in particular can provide unique insights that should be brought into the creative process at the start in order to maximize the relevance of its output.
When organizations are afraid of a non-productive role of ‘alien target groups’, they could hire a target group expert as a moderator. What may also help cross the barrier is to only add them to the beginning of the brainstorm. This allows for discussion of the target group’s input and carrying it to a ‘higher level’ afterwards.
When the end users’ profile strongly resembles that of the organization’s employees and/or founders, their involvement in brainstorm sessions may be less pertinent. In this case it is safe to assume that the organization itself possesses sufficient target group insight to yield relevant brainstorm output. (It is, by the way, always recommended to have external brainstorm participants sign a declaration of confidentiality).
Finally – whether end-users were brainstorm participants or not – it is always a good idea to first optimize the brainstorm’s output in collaboration with them, before implementing it.
Authors: Stefanie Jansen & Maarten Pieters, Copyright 2014