Brainstorming in Action: Developing New Products

When your team is brainstorming the development of new products, Brody Hartman of Hartman Communications in San Francisco suggests immersing brainstormers in the product itself. If, for example, you’re developing a new sports drink, send your brainstorming team to the gym for an hour. When they’re tired, hot and thirsty, have them describe what would quench their thirst right that minute.

Primo Angeli—whose San Francisco firm specializes in branding, naming and package design—estimates that nine of every 10 new products fail. He believes this failure rate is linked to our too-close ties to the products themselves. "Let the product go, throw the process upside-down and see what happens," Angeli suggests.

Don’t just scratch the surface of product development: Live with the product. Ask your team specific questions about the potential product. How will the product fit into consumers’ daily lives? Will they keep it in their refrigerators? If so, will it be convenient enough to fit on a shelf on the door? How do you want the product to feel in their hands? How often do you think they’ll reach for it?

Another method of generating ideas for new products is to compare the product to completely unrelated objects, resulting in some very innovative ideas. Brainstorming facilitator Jim Ferry describes one session where a group was developing ideas for new contact-lens products. The facilitator asked the team to choose an object unrelated to the product and see how they could adapt it to the project at hand.

One person picked up a marker and brainstormed how its shaft could be used to hold contact-lens fluid, while the cap could hold the lenses. A marker-like contact-lens case would be completely self-contained, and could fit easily and securely in a purse or briefcase. In this example, a completely new product and packaging idea was discovered by simply looking at the product in a completely nontraditional way. Source Inc. later designed the marker-shaped lens case for Bausch & Lomb; it experienced great success when it was launched in Europe.

HOW June 1999