Running out of ideas? Want to recruit the ideal employee? Blend a breakfast cereal? The BrainStore in Biel, which calls itself an idea factory, has helped both individuals and businesses develop winning ideas.
"If someone comes in and has a problem that can be solved with a good idea then we do it," Nadja Schnetzler, chief executive of the 12-year-old company, which employs around 30 people, told swissinfo.
The company has an impressive record.
Its successful projects include developing a new food service for Swiss trains. To replace the old name, "The Swiss Dining Corporation", BrainStore suggested "Passaggio". "They have changed their whole image towards a more open and Mediterranean-style restaurant line and an international branding company developed a new brand image for them," Schnetzler said.
BrainStore also gave the Swiss airline, Crossair, suggestions on future forms of in-flight entertainment.
Schnetzler and her business partner, Markus Mettler claim the idea factory is unique in the world. This year, it forecasts sales revenue of SFr4 million and the management plans more financial growth through a licensing project.
The company employs a network of 2,500 people worldwide to scout the latest trends, charging clients a fee of SFr9 to SFr300, A team of consultants delivers a selection of three to 20 possible solutions for each project.
Clients range from individuals to small businesses or large corporations. For instance, one young boy wanted to convince his father to buy him a computer. A father, meanwhile, wanted to discourage his daughter from talking so long on the phone. Both got creative suggestions.
When a large corporation searches for a bright idea, top executives (who pay executive-level fees) get a surprise. The executives are mixed with teenagers in the initial brainstorming phase to maximise the quantity and quality of ideas, Schnetzler says.
"Mixing managers with teenagers really limits the hierarchical thinking within a group and actually hierarchical thinking and the hidden agendas of people pose the biggest limits to creativity and creative thinking," Schnetzler adds.
"So when a 14-year-old teenager and the CEO of a company are sitting on the floor and drawing a picture or building a model of something, they are really working on the problem and not around the problem."
The company's approach to a project for the Federal Office for Energy illustrates the way the creative process works.
Music blares from overhead speakers as employees of the energy office and a group of students brainstorm on how to educate the Swiss on energy conservation. Small teams cram into six "minilabs" and shout out suggestions while a BrainStore facilitator jots them down.
Every squiggle on every scrap of paper generated during brainstorming is saved and thrown into an "IdeaPot". Then, the "ThinkTank" whittles down the number of ideas to between 3 and 20, depending on the client's requirements. Then the ideas are tested and presented to the client. In phase three, the client can ask BrainStore to implement the idea they choose.
Pierre Kopp, the workshop moderator, blows a horn to call the 30 participants back to the drawing table. Then, in pairs or groups of three, they get ten minutes to walk the streets of Biel and ask passersby for their views on pollution. At the labs, they re-enter the creative labs to jot down their ideas.
The approach seems to work, Kopp told swissinfo.
"The clients have been in their job for years and they put up a block as soon as they're asked something they're not used to and they try to think. And when they see the kids writing 10 ideas, then they realise they have to hurry up and they stop thinking and focus on producing ideas."
by Samantha Tonkin
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