We always hope that creativity will hit the instant we start a brainstorming session and a revolutionary, big idea will emerge magically from some quiet corner of the room. Good luck. Doesn’t happen. There’s even some new research that shows a lot of what people have been doing in brainstorm sessions is short-circuiting your team’s creativity. Here’s how to get good ideas out of your team:
Get the Culture Right
Creating an atmosphere that encourages and inspires creative thinking is more important than any activity you can conjure up for a brainstorming session. Design Thinking guru and IDEO CEO and President Tim Brown advocates the importance of giving “permission to innovate” and letting minds wander and think even at times it’s not expected. If the culture is right, you can bring in people from different backgrounds, engineers, marketing folks, R & D staff, and even sales people to bring diverse viewpoints to the problem.
Define the Problem
Is the problem clear and you need a range of solutions, or are you in search of lots of general ideas for a general issue? It’s the difference between “How do we get consumers to use their debit card instead of credit card?” to “How do we empower students to become social media brand advocates for our school?”
If your problem is clear, there needs to be slightly more structure surrounding the brainstorm, because people need direction from the problem and the problem owner to guide their ideas. Let this be the starting point
If you are searching for more ideas for a general issue, give people more freedom to generate ideas before, during, and after the scheduled brainstorm to make it as effective as possible.
Start Alone, Bring Together
A recent study by Texas A & M researchers showed that allowing people to think individually on a topic before coming to a group brainstorm helped produce more creative solutions than limiting people to a set brainstorm session.
Within the brainstorm itself, it is important not to think by constraints. We like to say, “No one can wear the poo-poo hat.” That means no saying poo-poo to an idea that isn’t fully formed. So what if it is uncooked or even raw? If your goal is to generate ideas, any thought in any form should be invited into the brainstorm.
Relinquish the Title and the Whiteboard
It is important to work collaboratively and openly and to invite in a little mess. When more ideas are needed, let more people take turns walking up to the whiteboard, let more people draw diagrams.
The same Texas A & M study found that groups that were allowed to interrupt one another came up with more creative ideas. In short, you need to create a “blurt it out” culture in the brainstorm. Make sure those interruptions are “Yes, and…” not “No but…” remarks. It’s how improv players keep the scene going and the same is true for brainstorms.
If things get messy and tense and people start losing energy, don’t give up. Take a five minute break. Don’t get on your cell phone, don’t email. Take a walk, move your body. Research shows that these types of break can dramatically increase the productivity of brainstorms.
Capture and Display Ideas for Lingering Hunches
A permanent whiteboard or chalkboard, or a wall in your office that displays ideas for a certain project will not only help group members visualize your thought process but also jog the mind and keep it active. Capturing ideas in all their worth, whether it be through visual thinking, storytelling, metaphors can help folks that have a lingering hunch. Great ideas don’t live on a schedule but they won’t ever emerge if you don’t keep the building blocks present in your team’s mind.
For more resources on brainstorming see: Doug Hall’s book “Jumpstart your Brain” Roger Van Oeck’s book “Creative Whack Pack”