by: John Caddell

Upon first reading this month's Harvard Business Review, I skated over “Breakthrough Thinking Inside the Box” (free link). I was probably too wrapped up in the storytelling article. Or I was concerned that this was another “strategic secret in 3000 words or less.”

After carefully reviewing the article today, it was a mistake to skip over it the first time. “Breakthrough Thinking” is a practical, useful and surprising look at generating new business ideas. The authors, Kevin Coyne, Patricia Gorman Clifford and Renée Dye, remind us of how frustrating typical brainstorming sessions are (“invent an idea for a new business in the next 20 minutes”). Then they go further to describe how such meetings can be infinitely more productive by laying out simple constraints to focus the mind and describe what form a useful new idea might take.

The creative usefulness of constraints is no secret, but “Breakthrough Thinking” is novel because it closely connects the right-brain creative flow process to a highly practical (and vital) business problem—improving innovation. I was also impressed by the rigorous approach used to create the method and the extensive in-use testing done before publicizing it (kudos to McKinsey).

My favorite part of the article is the sidebar “21 Great Questions for Developing New Products,” which should be cut out and pasted on the wall of every product manager, R&D vice president, or C-level executive. I can't count how many meetings I've been in where using this list would have greatly increased the results. I've thought of four or five instances where I can use the list in my own work, right away.

So, read “Breakthrough Thinking.” Paste “21 Great Questions” on your wall. And let the great ideas flow.

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