Starbursting

Understanding New Ideas by Brainstorming Questions

Starbursting

© iStockphoto/PapaBear

When a colleague suggests a new product or idea, and you're trying to understand it and how it works, a typical response is to bombard the other person with questions: What features would it have? How much would it cost? Where would we market it? Who would buy it? And so on.

Asking questions like these is a valuable way of understanding the new idea, and of challenging it to ensure that all of the relevant aspects of it have been considered before any work begins on implementing it. To get the most out of this approach, it's important that the questions are asked in a systematic and comprehensive way.

That's why it’s worth going through a comprehensive, systematic questioning exercise every time you explore a new idea. Starbursting is useful way of doing this.

Starbursting is a form of brainstorming that focuses on generating questions rather than answers. It can be used iteratively, with further layers of questioning about the answers to the initial set of questions. For example, a colleague suggests a new design of ice skating boot. One question you ask might be “Who is the customer?” Answer: "Skaters". But you need to go further than this to ensure that you target your promotions accurately: “What kind of skaters?” Answer: "Those who do a lot of jumping, who need extra support", and so on. This would help focus the marketing, for example to competition ice dancers and figure skaters, rather than ice rinks that buy boots to hire out to the general public.

Tip:

If you want to explore a really significant proposal, make sure you also use techniques like Risk Analysis   and Impact Analysis   to explore the questions you should ask.

How to Use the Tool

The best way to see the power of this simple but effective technique is to think of a product, challenge or issue to work on, and follow these steps:

Step 1

Download our free worksheet ?> and print it out or take a large sheet of paper, draw a large six-pointed star in the middle, and write your idea, product or challenge in the center.

Step 2

Write the words "Who", "What", "Why," "Where," "When," and "How" at the tip of each point of the star.

Step 3

Brainstorm questions about the idea or product starting with each of these words. The questions radiate out from the central star. Don't try to answer any of the questions as you go along. Instead, concentrate on thinking up as many questions as you can.

Step 4

Depending on the scope of the exercise, you may want to have further starbursting sessions to explore the answers to these initial questions further.

Figure 1 below shows some of the questions you might generate in a short starbursting session, focused on the skates mentioned above.

Figure 1 – Starbursting Diagram for New Product

Starbursting Diagram Example

Key Points

Starbursting is a form of brainstorming used to generate questions in a systematic, comprehensive way.

It's a useful tool to support your problem solving or decision making processes by helping you to understand all aspects and options more fully.

Download Worksheet

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Comments (8)
  • GoldenBoy wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Jag,

    I just took a look at this tool, and was wondering - where were you when we had our last planning session?

    I work within a teaching environment, and our last planning session was geared towards finding out what our real targets are, and what our desired outcomes should be to ensure success of the learning process for the students. We were stymied for the first hour in the meeting, because we couldn't even think of how to approach the topics. Eventually I proposed a combination of DACUM - brainstorming ideas and pasting them on a board using post-it notes - and the Ishikawa Diagram, to help us view our timeline, anticipated outcomes, and any barriers to those outcomes. Although we eventually achieved the desired results, having this Starburst technique available would have been golden to kicking off the session, instead of staring at a naked whiteboard and wondering what comes next.

    Thanks for the tool, and as they say "Better late than never".
  • rosietomato wrote Over a month ago
    I'm facilitating two technical brainstorming sessions next week and I was shuffling through potential methodologies in the tool kit. Starbursting fits my present requirements. 1) I'm dealing with a group of engineers (meaning they like structure which throws out random brainstorming and any cutsie things), 2) The topic 'research areas' is lakcing context so I can't even come up with a leading question to get the ball started, nor figure out what targeted probing question to ask, 3) I KNOW there are some 800 pound gorillas that are impacting their 'research areas' and I don't know what they are and I don't think the engineers are consious of them either. If we brainstormed research areas we'd have something but it would not be useful because at that point roadblocks would be pointed out and we'd be back to ground zero. Better to get them out on the table first. The multipronged question approach of starbursting throws a very wide net and should capture the problems that have gone-up to this point-unsaid including the definition of the research area! (part of the list of the "What is--" questions.)

    So I'm going to do the sessions in two parts: 1) question generation--I'm going to prime the pump with some questions such as "who is going to benefit from this research" and "what is the definition of (research area)" and let them populate the rest. Then we'll start semi-methodically through the questions. I'm not going to go clockwise or counterclockwise around the star but kind of semi-random so that we end with the key brainstorm question "What are the research areas we need to pursue". All the other stuff will quickly put this question in context.

    I'll let you know how it goes.
  • josintes wrote Over a month ago
    Thanks for this, what a great idea. I cant wait for my next opportunity to put it into practice. It certainly gives more direction than the typical brainstorming approach.

    FAB
    jo
  • James wrote Over a month ago
    It's already been announced elsewhere in the forum, however the template's now available. Just visit:

    http://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/newCT_91.php
  • James wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Mark

    Great idea! We'll post the template early in the New Year.

    James
  • kohakumark wrote Over a month ago
    Jag
    I like this method, would it be possible to supply templates for the method and the other methods that you guys promote on here?
    It would make it easier for the members to start using the methods.
  • ladyb wrote Over a month ago
    I guess that makes two us who would rather surf than shop on the last Saturday before Christmas!

    I too loved the starbursting approach - I've tried it a few times with my team but this article will help me organize my approach - can't wait to use it but I'll have to wait till the New Year as it seems productivity is not the priority until then!

    Here's to a great holiday season!!!

    Brynn
  • Bree wrote Over a month ago
    Loved the idea of starbursting. Rather than the traditional brainstorming techniques of generating ideas, coming up with questions first, instead of the answers, stretched my thinking in a different direction! I'll come up with the answers later though!!

    Just helps me look at things from a different direction and hopefully come up with some interesting answers!

    Hope you all have a great Christmas / Holiday season.
    B.

    p.s. OK ... so instead of being out Christmas shopping in the frenzied crowds where most people are like , I'm sitting here surfing ... the net on a Saturday morning!!

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