“So, give me your best ideas.” The room goes silent, pencils are fiddled with, eye contact is avoided — and the whiteboard remains blank. Or, a few dominant voices overwhelm the team and push half-baked solutions prematurely. So goes another unproductive brainstorming session. The method of brainstorming was introduced by Alex Osborn, the “O” in the iconic ad agency B.B.D.O., in his 1948 book, “Your Creative Power”. He defined it as “a creative conference for producing a list of ideas – ideas which can be subsequently evaluated and further processed.” Over the years, brainstorming has become a go-to-technique for idea generation. Steve Jobs was a big proponent of small brainstorming sessions that generated many of the cutting-edge advances attributed to Apple. Ken Segall, author of Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success and long-time collaborator with Steve Jobs describes Jobs’ strict enforcement of small meetings: “When he called a meeting or reported to a meeting, his expectation was that everyone in the room would be an essential participant. Spectators were not welcome.” Still, creatives tasked with producing bigger and better ideas for engaging content are well aware that brainstorming isn’t always a magic bullet. Any of these scenarios sound familiar?
“It’s already decided before they walk in”-storm
“Why are we here”-storm
“Who’s in charge”-storm
“We got nothing”-storm
“We all agree”-storm
1. Start with individual brainstorming
Pre-distribute materials well in advance of the meeting to give attendees time to ask questions, do additional research, and take the time to think it through individually. Ask each to email two or three of their best ideas before they walk into the room. By getting their ideas before the meeting starts, you save time, have a few ideas to kick off the meeting and the ideas presented aren’t tainted by groupthink.
2. Grab the Sticky Notes
Dr C.C. Crawford, Professor of Education at the USC, invented the Crawford Slip Method, typically used with sticky notes. Put a note pad in front of participants to write, sketch, or diagram ideas that are then displayed for discussion. By writing ideas instead a verbal free for all, people tend to think freely without interruption and the playing field between introverts and extroverts is leveled.
3. Push the wagon
The Charette Procedure originated from the old practice of 1800s architecture students carting drawings around on wagons to get feedback and approvals. Using small groups, move ideas generated around for each group to refine or build on. The best ideas will naturally come to the surface, while the less practical ones will die in circulation.
4. Circle the troops
In what’s called Round-Robin Brainstorming, participants sit around a table and allow the first person to throw out their idea, followed by the person next to them and on until everyone has had a chance to contribute. This method ensures quieter voices are heard and encourages thinking on one’s feet, but requires an experienced moderator to keep discussions and contributions on topic and timed appropriately.
5. Get away
As environment is an important element of creativity, leaving the stagnant office space for new pastures can stimulate idea generation. Think outside of the box: art museums, quiet restaurants, a local park or lake. Escaping the office encourages participants to think broadly and speak more freely.
6. Play to your team
Traditional brainstorming isn’t necessarily the smartest way to get the best ideas out of you and your team. Instead, be in tune with your team and know what techniques stimulate their brain. Studies show that the more comfortable participants feel and the less they fear judgment, the more likely they are to generate more ideas. Ask your team what they prefer and build your meetings around those preferences. That may include some trial and error, but will lead to better idea generation — your ultimate goal. For more creativity enhancers and idea generation tips, visit the MindTools Creativity Tools page. Want to learn about creating visuals that drive engagement? Download our white paper, Visuals That Stick, with actionable advice on impactful design from the Visually creative team.
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