KS&R Blogs


Lynne Van Dyke, KS&R Principal Emeritus, had previously shared her guidance on the importance of problem solving and idea generation and I thought that her words were too important to retire with her. Reposting her blog: "Looking for Breakthrough Ideas."

Anyone who lives with a cat knows the extraordinary lengths it will go to achieve its desired goal. Mr. X (a stray who wandered onto our front porch last year; my husband refused to allow me to name him to lessen the odds that the cat would join our household) excels at creative problem solving. He has been known to try multiple strategies in order to get at his catnip stash in the kitchen drawer. While many of Mr. X's more elaborate and innovative attempts are thwarted by his lack of opposable thumbs, somehow he always seems to come up with an approach that works.

No matter what business you are in, in order to succeed and compete in the global marketplace today, nothing is more important than problem solving and idea generation. They are core to the design of new products, as well as effective marketing strategies and advertising copy.

It's all very well to acknowledge that companies have a critical need for new ideas -- and to convert those ideas into solutions / innovation. But where will these ideas come from?

Some of the most effective idea generation techniques used in qualitative research have evolved from brainstorming, popularized in the 1950's by Alex Osborn in his book, Applied Imagination. Like most things, these techniques have their strengths and weaknesses. The key is knowing how to employ them effectively. Here are some guidelines:

  • First and foremost, recognize that creative thinkers don't spring up overnight. It is critical to recruit participants who are energetic, enthusiastic, smart, and have an open view of life. Creative thoughts will not flourish among those with a closed approach to life or restricted vision.

  • In contrast to traditional brainstorming methods that springboard off of Laddering and use consumer needs / wants and product benefits as inputs, consider focusing on consumers' problems. Find out what frustrates participants, what drives them crazy, and determine:

    • How annoying is the problem?

    • How frequently does the problem occur?

    • Are there solutions available to address the problem? If yes, how effective?

  • Recruit heavy or frequent users of the product / service. These are the consumers who are most likely to be concerned about, and capable of, communicating the problems, drawbacks, and barriers.

  • "Set the stage" by creating an environment that is fun, permissive, and non- threatening. Ground rules include withholding judgment / criticism and embracing the unexpected, and the unusual. No idea is too "out there" or insignificant. Einstein said, "If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."

  • Try a group passing method or "Round Robin" to help participants make the most of their creativity. Here's how it works: Each participant writes down one idea, using the technique of Sentence Completion ("I wish..." or "It would be great if it could...") to address the problem, then passes it to the person on their left, who adds ideas. This continues until each participant gets his/her original idea back. This technique has the added benefit of ensuring that all participate, eliminating participant "loafing".

It's exciting when creativity happens! Don't be afraid to try idea generation through qualitative research.

Jay Scott

Jay Scott

Jay answers the tough questions. He believes better information leads to better understanding, and his clients come back because they trust him to get it right. He is an innovator, looking for new ways to expand the research toolbox, whether by technology or methodology. With a broad understanding of qualitative, quantitative and design techniques, Jay is passionate about identifying business opportunities, creating new products and services, and bringing them to market. This dates back nearly 30 years when he led research that extended the product mix for key CPG brands. The lessons learned are now applied more frequently in B2B situations, including answering tough questions in e-commerce, global transportation, supply chain and logistics. Jay holds a Master's of Marketing Research (MMR) from the University of Georgia. When not at work, you can often find Jay watching his daughter's soccer games or sneaking out of town to catch the Atlanta Braves.