Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Breakthrough Thinking from Inside the Box

Breakthrough Thinking from Inside the Box.
By: Coyne, Kevin P., Clifford, Patricia Gorman, Dye, Renée,
Harvard Business Review,
Dec 2007, Vol. 85, Issue 12

Most managers and professionals are quite capable of thinking effectively inside a box. They live with constraints all the time and automatically explore alternatives, combinations, and permutations within their confined space. We have found that if you systematically constrain the scope of their thinking (but not too much), people are adept at fully exploring the possibilities, and they can regularly generate lots of good ideas - and occasionally some great ones. Setting the right constraints is a matter of asking the right kinds of questions: ones that create boxes that are useful, but different, from the boxes your people currently think in.

Ten years ago, as part of a larger project for McKinsey's strategy practice, we led a team of consultants who developed such an approach to brainstorming. It involves posing concrete questions and orchestrating the process for answering those questions.

The most fertile questions focus the mind on a subset of possibilities that differ markedly from those explored before, guiding people to valuable overlooked corners of the universe of possible improvements.

Ideas for better Brainstorming

Ensure that everyone is fully engaged
Focus every discussion using your preselected questions
Do not rely solely on one brainstorming session.
Narrow the list of ideas to the ones you will seriously investigate right away

Kevin P. Coyne ( is the founder of Kevin Coyne Partners, an executive-counseling firm in Atlanta, and previously was a director of McKinsey & Company. Patricia Gorman Clifford ( is a senior strategy expert in McKinsey's office in Stamford, Connecticut. Renée Dye ( is a senior consultant in the firm's strategy practice and is based in Atlanta.

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