Straightforward brainstorming works great for getting a lot of ideas on paper, but sometimes you need more. When your goal is to generate ideas and figure out which ones will be most valuable to your organization, it’s time to incorporate analytical brainstorming techniques. The two approaches we’re explaining today can help you nail down the causes of institutional problems and develop highly effective solutions.

This is post #3 in our series about brainstorming. Check out our first and second posts in this series.

Analyze the Driving Forces

Often we want to dive in and start brainstorming solutions to an existing problem. However, it might make more sense to initially figure out what’s driving or causing that problem. In brainstorming terms, this process is called a Drivers Analysis.

The first step of a Drivers Analysis is no different than any other brainstorm session: identify the problem.

Once you’ve done that, rather than focusing on coming up with solutions, try to work out the reason this problem exists. It can be helpful to ask the group questions that address who, what, when, where, why and how. For instance, if sales are down, you might ask, “What are our competitors doing more effectively?” Or, “How have we changed our sales processes lately?”

As brainstorm participants offer their answers to these questions, you will see possible solutions coming to light. Continuing with the example above, you might realize that your company cut back on advertising around the same time your competitors released a popular new commercial on social media. It quickly becomes clear that reassessing your company’s advertising strategy is a solution to the problem.

Develop Solutions Using a Decision Matrix

Logical thinkers tend to like the Decision Matrix brainstorming tool. This tool helps you analyze and compare a handful of solution ideas in order to find the most effective solution to your problem.

Begin by drawing your Decision Matrix grid on a whiteboard, or use the one in Cardsmith. It basically looks like a mini spreadsheet.

Decision Matrix

In the first column, list the criteria you’ll use for evaluation of your ideas. Popular criteria include benefits, risks, costs, simplicity of implementation and speed of implementation. Then, across the top row, list your ideas (your potential solutions to the problem). 

Begin the brainstorming process by asking your team to talk about how each idea fits each of the criteria. Go in an orderly fashion, discussing one square in the grid at a time. Write the answers as you go, so you end up with a fully filled-in grid analyzing each of the solutions based on each of your criteria.

Sometimes, at this point, a clear frontrunner solution will stand out. If not, have your team vote. For instance, which idea do they think offers the best benefits? Which would be quickest to implement? Vote on the best idea for each of the criteria, then add up the tally to find out which idea scores highest overall. That’s your solution.

When you go to implement that solution, you’ll know you’ve given it a thorough analysis and reached a group consensus. All of this leads to a higher likelihood of success.

Plot Your SWOT

This brainstorming approach analyzes your company’s SWOT: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Create a four-part grid using each of these headings. As you brainstorm, your team will come up with as many results as possible in each category. Brainstorm one category at a time.

Begin with strengths, then move on to weaknesses. For these two concepts, remind the group to focus on things within your company’s control. Strengths are processes or behaviors that put you at an advantage in the marketplace; weaknesses are actions (or lack thereof) which put you at a disadvantage.

Then, move on to the things that are out of your company’s control. Opportunities are situations that afford your company an advantage. Threats pose a danger or impediment to your success. Again, for these four categories keep the group focused on things that you can’t control, like the economy.

Once you have your list of SWOTs, start getting more analytical. Have the group pick the top three ideas under each heading. Then, brainstorm ways to address each of these. You’ll want to look for actions that will capitalize on your strengths, overcome weaknesses, take advantage of opportunities, and stave off the threats.

This analytical brainstorming technique often leads to insights you might not otherwise discover. You’ll end up with a clearer picture of your current challenges and the direction you should take in the future. SWOT is one of our favorite ways to spark new ideas and foster growth.


Note: the image above shows how a team could use the SWOT technique in an individual and then group brainstorming exercise. It can often be very useful for a team if everyone does some thinking on their own to begin. You can do that by having each team member hide the Grid rows that are not their name. Then, they can populate the Grid for their Row. After everyone is given a chance to do their own thinking, the group can reveal the rows one by one, or all of them and discuss the different ideas. You might drag ideas that multiple people listed up to the top row titled “Top Overall”. 

Thank you for reading this final post in our Creative Brainstorming Techniques series. Don’t forget to check out our previous posts on this topic! We’ve discussed tools that can help you change your brainstorming point of view to bring about better business solutions. We’ve also shown you how to use letters, numbers and shapes to add creativity into your brainstorming process.