Creativity breeds innovation, and vice versa. And in today's highly commoditized marketplace of ideas, those two traits are imperative to success.
There are near endless techniques and methods businesses implore for building an atmosphere that fosters creativity and innovation. Yes, the ping pong matches, slides between floors and dedicating time for personal projects, can be effective, however there is one time-tested approach that continues to prove invaluable to innovation: brainstorming.
Just suggesting a brainstorming meeting unearths a number of different emotions from your team. Most people understand that brainstorming is a necessary evil. However, few still look at brainstorming as a clear path to innovation. We've all been in a session from Hell in which one opinionated person monopolized the floor and no real solutions were reached, or the series of meetings that uncovered more problems to solve without ever solving the original issue the brainstorm session was scheduled for.
We recently had a sales and marketing brainstorming session to identify overarching campaigns, goals and targets for the year. While we had an agenda outlining key topics we wanted to cover, we failed to clearly define our desired outputs. This one session turned into multiple meetings talking about big ideas and unearthing more problems instead of actionable solutions and who would own those.
Our VP of marketing decided to wipe the slate clean, created an outline and goal document that was presented before our next meeting. The result was actionable, creative solutions and a plan for implementation. By properly preparing, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time.
There are also hundreds of books and research reports supporting both sides of the argument to whether brainstorming is even worth the input of time for the output of results. The truth is, collaboration keeps us creative. And creativity leads to innovation. We all want to stay as productive as possible in the workplace, so in order for brainstorming to be beneficial, be sure to have the below systems in place.
Make it an organized priority
It can be a challenge to get everyone in the same room at the same time. Client meetings take priority, phone calls run long, or travel schedules get in the way. Brainstorming sessions should include everyone, not just part of the team, and should be in person or via video chat. This should be mandatory.
Once everyone is in the room, the process needs to be organized and efficient. If having the actual time to sit down and brainstorm is an issue, a good process to follow is the 3-12-3 approach. This strategy builds the session in one short format. The numbers represent the amount of time to give to three different activities that will encourage fresh ideas. Three minutes to outline or discuss impending problems, 12 minutes to discuss possible solutions to those problems, and three minutes to present the ideas to the team.
From there, the team can rank the ideas that were presented, thus having fresh ideas to build from.
Let the best facilitator facilitate
Oftentimes, the boss or project lead is the worst person to lead the session. There is likely one person on your team that makes everyone feel the most comfortable and can lead a meeting or conversation smoothly, regardless of the circumstance. This person should be your designated facilitator.
There are a lot of psychological reasons why group brainstorming fails. One of the biggest is that participants feel pressure to conform to certain ideas or feel criticized when presenting thoughts. The facilitator should be someone that is welcoming and can lead respectfully.
Egos must be checked at the door. Everyone involved has to feel comfortable voicing their ideas.
Have a clearly defined goal
The best way to prepare your team is to give them as much detail as possible before the meeting and require them to come to the table with something. The argument that one can be more creative when spending time alone, focused on one problem doesn't win if you give your team time to think before the session.
Kimberly Wiefling created a process called the Wellbeing North Star. In her process, participants start with one goal in mind, which is the star outlined on a board. The main topic is placed in the center, and all aspects to be discussed pertaining to that topic are placed around the star. From there, the team uses sticky notes to write their likes and dislikes about each topic. This process promotes 100 percent participation from the team and gives everyone a voice in the process.
Staying creative is a challenge. Find the best process that works when your entire team is in the room and let them go. Be sure to record all ideas (you'll never know when you'll need them) and end the meeting with clear instructions for follow-up and next steps. You might even start looking forward to brainstorming once again.