Concept Generation: Conceptual Blockbusting and Brainstorming
ME 290P and BA 296-3
Professor Alice Agogino
Dr. Sara L. Beckman
Concept Generation Process (Ulrich and Eppinger)
- Step 1: Clarify the problem
- Decompose a complex problem into simpler subproblems
- Focus initial efforts on critical subproblems
- Step 2: Search externally
- Interview lead users
- Consult experts
- Search patents
- Search published literature
- Benchmark related products
- Step 3: Search internally
- Step 4: Explore systematically
- Concept classification tree
- Concept combination table
- Managing the exploration process
- Step 5: Reflect on the solutions and the process
Five Stages of the Creative Process
- Gather and study information about the problem
- Define and understand the problem
- Concentrated effort to reach a solution
- An instant of creative insight that unexpectedly surfaces
with a solution to the problem
- Often triggered by some apparently unrelated stimulus
- Detailed design
- Evaluation and analysis
- Testing and implementation
Creative Design Process
- Morphological Analysis
- Affinity Diagrams
- Quality Function Deployment
- Design for Manufacturability
- Formal methods
- Design optimization
Concept Generation Exercise
There are many techniques for brainstorming. One involves using
post-its and engaging an entire group in silent generation and
grouping of ideas prior to discussion of them. Other processes
involve facilitating a group conversation and collecting ideas
on flipcharts, whiteboards, etc. There is also software (e.g.,
by Ventana Corp.) that supports brainstorming exercises. Brainstorming
will be useful at many points in your project, not just at the
concept generation stage.
- Problem: Dealing with leaves on a lawn.
- Manufacturer of plastic bags
- Manufacturer of lawn tools and equipment
- Company responsible for maintaining golf courses around the
- Owner of a lawn
The perspective each team took in generating ideas clearly biased
their results. The plastic bag manufacturers generated very specific
ideas with respect to bags, while the golf course maintenance
company took a much broader perspective. Note that both the broad
and deep views yield different ideas. You may want to experiment
in your groups with both perspectives.
Brainstorming -- Organization
- Select a diverse group of 4-10 people representing all aspects
of the topic to be brainstormed
- Select a facilitator
- Choose an appropriate location where participants will not
be distracted or disturbed
- Select a recorder to write down ideas as they are presented.
Use a large board or overhead where everyone can see them
Brainstorming -- Divergent Thinking
- Ask each participant for ideas. Listen to everyone. Individuals
may pass if they have nothing more to contribute.
- Do not allow judgments or critical discussion to take place
during the initial idea generating phase
- Strive for quantity
- Let participants build spontaneously on the ideas of others
Brainstorming -- Convergent Phase
- When all the ideas are generated, go back and review and discuss
the ideas based on similarity and importance
- Narrow in on the most important ideas and formulate a group
consensus on a short list of ideas
Conceptual Blockbusting (Jim Adams)
- Conceptualization is the process by which one has ideas in
design and open-ended problem solving
- Conceptual blocks are mental walls that block the problem
solver from correctly perceiving a problem or conceiving its solution
- Everybody can be creative
- Everybody has some conceptual blocks limiting creativity
Conceptual Blocks (Jim Adams)
- Conceptual blocks are a kind of mental inflexibility
- Seeing what you expect to see; stereotyping
- Difficulty isolating the problem
- Tendency to delimit the problem too closely
- Inability to see the problem from various viewpoints
- Failure to utilize sensory inputs (graphical and physical
Perceptual Blocks (Jim Adams)
Perceptual blocks are obstacles that prevent the problem-solver
from clearly perceiving either the problem itself or the information
needed to solve the problem
- Seeing what you expect to see; stereotyped seeing; premature
- Inability to view problem from various viewpoints
- Difficulty in isolating the problem
- Tendency to delimit the problem area too closely
Perceptual stereotyping is part of the explanation for the success
of various types of optical trickery. It is not all bad, as it
allows people to complete incomplete data. However, it can be
a handicap in perceiving new combinations.
Emotional Blocks (Jim Adams)
- Fear to make a mistake, to fail, to risk
- Excessive zeal; over motivation to succeed quickly; can only
see one direction to go (ours)
- Inability to tolerate ambiguity; overriding desire for security,
order, no appetite for chaos
- Difficulty in isolating the problem
- Cannot relax, incubate, "sleep on it."
Cultural Blocks (Jim Adams)
Cultural blocks are acquired by exposure to a set of cultural
patterns. Sometimes they get codified into law, and are not challenged
as society changes.
- Fantasy and reflection are waste of time, lazy, even crazy
- Playfulness is for children only
- Reason, logic, number, utility, practicality are good;
feeling, intuition, qualitative judgments, pleasure are bad.
Environmental and Organizational Blocks (Jim Adams)
- Distractions -- phone, easy intrusions
- Lack of support to bring ideas into action
- Lack of cooperation and trust among colleagues -- insecurity
- Autocratic boss who only values his own ideas; does not reward
- Inhibiting organizational management styles
Intellectual and Expressive Blocks (Jim Adams)
- Lack of information; incorrect information
- Inflexible or inadequate use of intellectual problem-solving
- Formulating problem in incorrect language (e.g., verbal, math,
- Inadequate language skill to express ideas
There are many tools for overcoming conceptual blocks. The
following approach to creativity comes from a book called ThinkerToys.
This exercise is similar to some of the exercises you can do
with the VizAbility software we displayed in class.
SCAMPER: Nine techniques for transforming any object, service,
or process into something new
- Modify or magnify
- Put to other uses
- Eliminate or minify
- Reverse or rearrange
- What can be substituted? Who else? What else?
- Can the rules be changed?
- Other ingredient? Other material?
- Other process or procedure?
- Other power?
- Other place?
- Other approach?
- What else instead?
- Can we combine purposes?
- How about an assortment?
- How about a blend? An alloy?
- Combine units?
- What other article could be merged with this?
- Combine appeals?
- What else is like this?
- What other idea does this suggest?
- Does the past offer a parallel?
- What could I copy?
- Whom could I emulate?
- What idea could I incorporate?
- What other process could be adapted?
- What can be magnified, made larger, or extended?
- What can be exaggerated? Overstated?
- What can be added? More time? Stronger? Higher?
- How about greater frequency? Extra features?
- What can add extra value?
- What can be duplicated?
- How could I carry it to a dramatic extreme?
- How can this be altered for the better?
- What can be modified?
- Is there a new twist?
- Change meaning, color, motion, sound, odor, form, shape?
- Change name?
- What changes can be made in the plans? In the process? In
Put to other uses?
- What else can this be used for?
- Are there new ways to use as is?
- Other uses if modified?
- What else could be made form this?
- Other extensions? Other markets?
Eliminate or Minify?
- What if this were smaller?
- What should I omit?
- Should I divide it? Split it up? Separate it into different
- Streamline? Make miniature? Condense? Compact?
- Subtract? Delete?
- Can the rules be eliminated?
- What's not necessary?
- What other arrangements might be better?
- Interchange components?
- Other pattern? Other layout?
- Other sequence? Change the order?
- Transpose cause and effect?
- Change pace or schedule?
- Can I transpose positive and negative?
- What are the opposites?
- What are the negatives?
- Should I turn it around? Up instead of down?
- Consider it backwards?
- Reverse roles?
- Do the unexpected?
What would be the relative advantages and disadvantages of
involving actual customers in the concept generation process?
For what types of products would the initial focus of the
concept generation activity be on the form and user interface
of the product and not on the core technology?
- K-J Diagramming
- See The Memory Jogger Plus by Goal/QPC (508) 685-6151
- Group Facilitation Software
- Ventana Corporation
- Tuscon, Arizona
- (602) 325-8228
- Michael Michalko
- Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Business Creativity for the 90s
- James L. Adams