Renaissance artist Michelangelo once remarked that every block of stone has a masterpiece inside of it, and it's the task of the sculptor to let it out.
You could apply that concept to really big ideas--these strokes of genius already live inside of our minds, and it's our job to set them free.
The most familiar tool we have for this purpose is a brainstorming or whiteboarding session, but coming up with truly revolutionary ideas in a group setting can be challenging, even if you have strong creative minds working together with the best intentions. Many brainstorms inadvertently create a high-pressure environment that forces on-demand creativity without any prep work to set people and the project up for success.
To enable the most innovative ideas to bubble to the surface, stop treating creativity as a whim, and instead, as a process that requires some purposeful prep work and dedicated follow up.
These 7 strategies will help you host more effective brainstorms that maximize the creative power of your team. Put them into play and the outcome--and your next big idea--could just be a masterpiece.
1. Dole Out Pre-Brainstorm Assignments
We spend weeks on end writing decks, but yet put the expectation that only an hour-long brainstorm is needed to come up with the "big idea." Give participants a chance to marinate ideas ahead of time by sending informational material and assigning short assignments to complete before the brainstorm. These assignments can include coming up with five thought-starters, outlining the challenges of the project, researching competitors' work--anything to get the juices flowing!
2. Present Ideas Anonymously
The corporate survival instinct is in full effect when the boss proposes an idea, and--whether intentionally or subconsciously--everyone supports it without critical thought. Get more honest feedback by asking all the participants to e-mail in their top three ideas, and then present them anonymously in the brainstorm. If you want to take away your own bias, you can use a service like Free Suggestion Box to collect the ideas.
3. Change Your Scenery
Let's be honest: The good old conference room with its white walls, fluorescent lights, and view of the rest of the office isn't the most creative environment. If time allows, hold your brainstorm offsite over coffee or lunch. This will help your team focus on the task at hand--and only the task at hand--while brainstorming.
4. Order a Tech Ban
You brainstorms will be more efficient if everyone stays on topic, which means staying away from email for the length of the meeting. Have one laptop hooked up to a projector for when the team needs to look up background information--it's better if everyone sees the research anyway--and request all other laptops and phones stay out of sight for the duration.
5. Bring in Outsiders
Brainstorming a marketing idea doesn't mean the only the marketing department should participate. Bring in people who haven't been pulling their hair out on this topic for a fresh perspective. Where an internal team might get caught up in logistics, how to adhere to the newest digital trends, or what you've done in the past, external teams can provide a fresh perspective.
6. List Out Some Bad Ideas
Even if you insist to your group that, "there are no bad ideas," people can be so afraid of having one that they hold back on pitching. Break the ice in the room by spending five minutes at the top coming up with ideas that would never work for this project. Not only will this exercise engage everyone in the conversation, but also one of the bad ideas may spark a good idea in its wake.
7. Forecast More Rain
In an ideal world, you leave a brainstorm with the big idea. In the real world, though, the big idea might still be under the surface. After immersing in the project at the brainstorm, everyone is primed to come up with even better ideas. Use this window, and request that everyone submit just one more idea within 24 hours of the initial brainstorm. You might be surprised with the ideas that pop after people have had a chance to sleep on it.