The quest to understand where good ideas come from and how a person or a group can tap into innovative thinking is never ending. At Mokriya we’re always looking to improve our approach and our clients are often curious about the methods we employ and how we work, internally and in conjunction with clients. How do we come up with great solutions? What methods do we use and how will that impact the work we do together?

It makes sense, especially when you consider the fact that our work is centered around helping organizations integrate technological tools that better support their brand and the customers they serve.

Our answer usually comes as a surprise: At Mokriya, we don’t brainstorm. Brainstorming is the single most overhyped, and ineffective ideation tactic in modern times. In short, we don’t use brainstorming because brainstorming doesn’t work.

You might be suspicious of this statement. And that’s understandable. Brainstorming is so embedded in our concept of modern creativity, it’s hard to imagine another way of coming up with ideas.

The problem with brainstorming

But time and time again, researchers have shown that brainstorming isn’t effective at coming up with truly innovative solutions to real problems. Why? Well, that’s where things get interesting. In order to understand what ideating methods do work, we have to go back to 1948 when ad-man, Alex Osborn published his book, Your Creative Power, detailing his personal strategies for unlocking creativity in advertising.

The book was an instant and huge success. But it was one idea, in particular, that stood out in the minds of his readers: The brainstorm. Osborn’s trademark creative process — to sit down in a group and free associate ideas without criticism or self-editing — was a revelation to many. They had discovered what we all know: Brainstorming frees you up to come up with new ideas that might not otherwise appear. It removes the possibility that criticism could hamper great ideas — and we all know that stress and the fear of judgement can hamper a person’s creativity. Osborn even claimed that brainstorming improved creative performance by 50% compared to work done alone. But the last half century of research tells us brainstorming is actually detrimental to creativity.

The problem is that while brainstorming does make it easy to come up with a large quantity of ideas, the quality of those ideas isn’t necessarily high. Brainstorming is essentially a type of group free association. And free association often only scrapes the surface of creative thinking. Studies on free association have found that it isn’t as random and inspired as we like to think. When someone says “green,” by far most people respond with, “grass.” It’s just

When you’re brainstorming, you’re not usually coming up with the most innovative solutions, you’re simply accessing the closest, most easily accessible associations. In studies of free association of words — long held up as some kind of insight into our deepest selves — has been revealed to be very predictable.

In order to delve into real innovation, you have to go deeper than free association, and if your task is to create a strategy that is both innovative and practical, you need to go even deeper.

How we innovate at Mokriya

So, if we don’t use brainstorming, then how do we come up with ideas at Mokriya? In order to create the kinds of solutions that actually innovate the ways our clients use technology, we’ve found the best method is to approach each problem uniquely.

We don’t have a single special process for great innovation. Instead, we take a wider view. Great ideas start with great people, which is part of the reason we’re so careful about who we bring on to the Mokriya team. No amount of strategy or psychology-influenced ideation process can replace smart, ambitious, self-motivated people who love the work we do. That, we believe, is the most essential part of coming up with great ideas.  

Because we only hire the right people for the role, we’re able to give our team more freedom. Every client, every project requires a unique approach in order to create the best solution for their particular challenges and needs.

That’s why our first step is learning the client’s process and adapting to their culture. They developed the system they use for a reason and knowing what works for them is necessary if we’re going to help them use tech to the fullest. It’s hard to trust a company you’ve never worked with before. In order to provide the best quality work, you have to be conscious of that and work on building that trust. Part of that is done by observing and working with our clients own unique systems.

In our experience, there isn’t one system that works for everyone all the time. Every group is different and every organization is unique, but most great innovation happens with some combination of divergence and convergence, a process of coming up with many different solutions and then whittling them down. Research indicates that divergence (coming up with many different ideas) is often most effective when done privately, and convergence (sorting through those ideas to find the best ones) is usually most successful in groups. That’s because the more time you spend with a group, the more you all think alike. In fact, the most effective ideation happens where there are both new and old perspective challenging and inspiring each other.

That’s bad news for brainstorming, but great news for an organization like Mokriya. We take our knowledge in technology and combine it with each of our client’s knowledge of their own brand. Together, we have a lot to teach one another and fresh perspectives to see challenges and find solutions.  

Our clients teach us, and with every project we do we come away with new tools and new perspectives on the ways teams can work together to come up with the most innovative ideas. So, what’s your team’s method? Tell us. We’d love to know. 


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About Tricina Elliker

Tricina Elliker is a regular contributing writer to Mokriya, based in Portland, Oregon. She's been writing about science and tech since 2008 and received her MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University in 2013.