Have you ever experienced coming up with several different ideas to solve a problem and not knowing which one to choose? Usually, the main difficulty to overcome an obstacle is not the absence of ideas but the way to organize them and how to pick the best one. During creative workshops, for example, we put so much focus on going through brainstorming sessions and other idea generating techniques, and we end up with a full mountain of possibilities but no clue on how to continue from there.

Mr. Kawakita, a japanese profesor of cultural anthropology, devoloped a method to solve this issue. The method is called KJ, thanks to him, although it is also known as affinity diagram. It consists of 4 simple steps and is designed to be used in teams, in any type of organizations, from corporations to schools. Here are the 4 steps described:

1. Prepare your ideas

Write down each idea that has come up on a separate sheet of paper and stick them randomly on a white board or on big clean wall. Make sure you also put a descriptive note containing the main goal or problem on the wall, and locate it in the center. This will help the team focus on the goal.

2. Categorize your ideas

Categorize the ideas with your team, grouping ideas based on functionality, characteristics, implementation, expected results or any other form that makes sense for that specific case. The important thing is to separate and classify. Align the ideas of a same category vertically, in order to check quickly how many ideas you have come up to per category. The ones that do not fit on any category can be placed on a separate location.

3. Tag each category

Take a look at each category once again, and choose a name for each one. Tags should be short and represent each subject or concept behind that group of ideas. For example, if we are trying to find ideas to reduce production costs, we could have grouped our ideas in the following categories: waste reduction, technology developments, change of suppliers, etc. There can be no two categories with similar tags. If there are, then unify them. On the other hand, as you progress you may have to split some categories or relocate some ideas to make them fit properly.

4. Vote ideas

The KJ method is used to categorize and prioritize ideas, in order to select the ones that look the most promising or make the most sense. This last part is achieved by voting the best ideas and it can be done through different ways:

  • Each team member can receive the power to place 3 to 5 votes to a single or multiple ideas. The ones that get the most amount of votes are discussed thoroughly and can continue development.
  • The ideas can be discussed by the whole team in order to achieve a common sense of acceptance for one idea in particular. This method requires much more time but the future implementation of the selected concept can be much more solid and promising.

  • If there are many categories available then a first round can be used to select the most promising categories. The second round will then determine the best ideas of the preselected categories.

To sum up

Any of the options described above can allow you to select the ideas the best way possible, taking into account your knowledge and that of the group.

As you can see, the system is simple, but that is exactly why it is so powerful. Sorting out ideas doesn’t have to be complicated at all.