By Karin Eldor
There comes a time in your career when you will need to lean on the collaboration of your teammates to help inspire brilliant ideas. But when you send the meeting invitation, only two people hit “Accept” (despite your super enthusiastic subject line). Sound familiar?
Hey, it’s not your fault—it’s the negative perception associated with brainstorm sessions—and meetings in general. (We outline tips on how to make meetings and conference calls more efficient, in our series of articles focusing on meetings.) Rounding out the trifecta: the brainstorm. After all, there is always the opportunity for meetings to generate amazing ideas when the right brainstorming tools and creative thinking techniques are used.
So let’s create some magic, shall we?
Here are some brainstorming tools to keep the creative process flowing (and keep the emphasis more on “brain” rather than “storm”).
1- Send stimulating material before the meeting
Forward along any videos or articles that might spark ideas, pre-meeting.
2- Book the right room to inspire idea generation
If possible, choose a room in your office building that’s not normally a meeting space (stay away from super sterile and corporate.) Windows and good lighting help with creative thinking.
Note: If this creative *spark* session is intended to generate ideas and concepts for an important mandate (i.e. a proposal for a major client or a brand strategy meeting), consider booking an off-site morning or afternoon session, perhaps in a conference room at a communal workspace or even a hotel. It will ensure all participants are focused and distraction-free, and more prone to being in “the zone.” If you do this, make sure to schedule it way in advance so that all attendees can plan accordingly. Also, ensure you have executive buy-in to do this.
3- Be selective about who you invite
The bigger the crowd, the more likely things can spiral out of control (the “sweet spot” for a brainstorm meeting is 8-10 people). Also, be cognizant of different management levels: if there are team members from too high an executive level present, it might skew how people speak or contribute, or can intimidate the group.
4- Start by sharing the most “out there” idea
Start the session by writing down the most outlandish idea on a board, to show there are no boundaries. Make it clear that you’re not thinking about the “how” or tactics in this session; you have gathered this group to think way outside the box. There’s no such thing as a bad idea here and clear away all notions of parameters. Although the term “blue sky thinking” is often mocked as a corporate buzzword, it’s the perfect word to define this kind of creative problem solving and thinking. The sky’s the limit!
5- Let it flow with improv & word games
If you’re looking to break the ice within the group, try playing word games. One game that works is “word association.” At the start of the meeting, write one word on the board and ask all participants to shout out a word that comes to mind. This should be quick, unfiltered and impulsive. The words that stem from here might just inspire a big idea.
Another fun ice breaker is to assign each participant a celebrity (living or legendary). Ask each participant to role-play how they would talk about the brand or how they would promote it, by thinking through the lens of their assigned celebrity. By using everyone from Einstein to Kim Kardashian, you’re sure to have some fun and get some ideas flowing!
6- Try “brainwriting”
An article in Fast Company called “Brainstorming Doesn’t Work; Try This Technique Instead” lists some of the detriments of brainstorming as a group. The general idea? Generating ideas should happen on its own, rather than as part of a group discussion. With brainwriting, each participant takes the time to write down ideas independently. Then a meeting moderator gathers all the ideas and writes them on a board, for everyone to see — but the key is anonymity, so there are no biases associated to any ideas. It becomes an “idea democracy,” if you will.
Next, the ideas are discussed and debated as a group. It’s important to shortlist the best ideas, by creating 3 to 5 questions as the “judging criteria” to anchor the ideas objectively (an important such question is: “Does the idea meet the objective?”)
7- Manage your crowd accordingly: introverts vs. extroverts
Crowd control is essential when it comes to successful brainstorm sessions. In every brainstorm, you’re going to have conflicting personality types: big personalities might dominate while the quiet thinkers remain reserved and avoid speaking up.
For the introverts, tell them what the brainstorm is about in advance so they can plan and write down their ideas ahead of time. They are likely to “think before they speak” and are more cautious, so give them the chance to come prepared.
For those who think brainstorming is a total waste of time because they’re “know-it-alls,” let them get their ideas out and on the board right away, as they likely won’t have patience to sit around and wait their turn. These are the people who want to get back to business—so let them.
8- Designate a team member to take notes
If you are leading the meeting, make sure you designate a team member to take notes. Preferably someone who is involved in the project and knows the context.
The perfect (brain)storm
As cliché as it sounds, working together as a team to think of fresh ideas and solutions is priceless.
It’s up to you to use the right creative thinking techniques to ensure you make the most of brainstorm meetings. It’s a key way to take the world by storm!