‘We need to SOLVE the problem, PITCH the boss, STRATEGIZE the next move, DEVELOP the story… Let the BRAINSTORMING begin.’

That ‘storm’ begins as a meeting on the calendar. We all get in a conference room, yell out a bunch of ideas. The senior most person in the room takes the ideas they like, redirects the group’s focus and ‘we’ reach an ‘agreed upon outcome.’

That process can work. Just like that. Certainly. It makes sense and many groups have done it that way for quite some time. And will still.

They may not call it BRAINSTORMING, they may call it IDEATING, (and I’ve got thoughts on that word. So. Many. Thoughts.)

Whatever you call it, it’s about sharing ideas and ultimately developing a plan. It’s group work and has all the pitfalls and enormous benefits of collaboration.

It’s one of my favorite ways to work. But it’s not foolproof. And there’s actually different methods that yield different results.

BACKGROUND: https://hbr.org/2017/05/your-team-is-brainstorming-all-wrong

What’s important to remember is that it is a process. A group process. The goal is not just a strategic outcome but maximizing the group’s creativity to achieve the best outcome.

If you’ve done enough of these collaborations, you know there’s an ebb and flow to it. And one of the oldest principles – DON’T CRITICIZE TOO EARLY – still holds up. Early criticism can easily turn off creativity. People contributing ideas are sometimes like puppies: eager to to be involved and nervous about approval. Sharp criticism early can be like smacking that puppy on the nose. Especially if there’s a ‘boss’ in the room.

Let’s look at the process.

  1. What’s our Goal: the problem that needs a solution?
  2. Work Individually on the Solution
  3. Collaborate
  4. Follow up from Individuals
  1. What’s Our Goal?

Why do we need to get together? What’s the problem that needs a solution? What is the client looking for?

There’s always a result in mind, but often it’s not clear enough for everyone to be working in the same direction.

“The client wants a series about lawn care.”

That puts our goal in the ‘lawn care’ neighborhood, but what about it? Commercial lawn care? Home lawn care? Themed animal shaped topiary and lawn care? Summer care? Year round care? What products do they want to feature? Can we feature?

What’s our goal?

From the creative brief, conversations with the client (or product lead, or department head, or whomever is leading the charge), these are the types of questions that define the goal. The results should be understood, and the objective of the solution should also be explored and clearly understood.

  1. Work Individually

This step is key to keeping the ideas far afield and diversity of thought alive and kicking. Often in group brainstorming, without an individual work phase, the collaboration in the room moves toward a central idea that is a natural by-product of humans doing human things in groups. Essentially, the ideas will tend to converge in a group setting.

Once the development goal is clear, individuals should have time to work independently. Hopefully, you’ve set up a diverse team and they’ll develop a catalog of diverse ideas. This creates a backbone for discussion that will be inherently more interesting than just jumping into a room as a group. Even if there is little time, give everyone a chance to work individually.  If you have a last minute client pitch and 30 minutes to come up with ideas, spend the first five minutes working on individual ideas.

The 6-3-5 Brainwriting Method relies on quiet individual work entirely. And can certainly be a useful strategy.

THE 6-3-5 Strategy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6-3-5_Brainwriting

Individual work inspiring the group work has plenty of anecdotal evidence. Think about your group of friends or colleagues and how each offers you new ideas for restaurants, books, shows or places to see in town. They’re interests and experiences inform their tastes and what they share.

SOME SCIENCE: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/how-group-dynamics-may-be-killing-innovation

  1. Collaborate

Get in the room armed with individual ideas and share. Be careful to avoid criticism for criticism’s sake and stay focused on the SOLUTION or GOAL. There aren’t bad ideas early, but there are ideas that derail the collaboration. Ideas that drive away from the goal aren’t bad per se, but they are simply outside this meeting. It’s a good practice to catalog those ideas and save them for another project.

The team lead, moderator or whomever is driving the bus can run the room however they see fit to get to a great design, strategy, or plan. Collecting ideas, forming themes and offering constructive feedback and direction. SPECIFICITY is a powerful tool throughout the process and will be incredibly beneficial in collaboration.

Know which methodology you’d like to lean on. Sometimes, don’t rely on talking so much. C-Sketch may be the way to go for that round.

C-SKETCH STRATEGY: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfTZuH5ocJc

  1. Follow Ups from Individuals

Once the group collaboration phase is over, and the lead has gathered ideas and materials, let it rest. Obviously, if there’s a deadline that doesn’t allow for follow-up, then ignore this step.

There will be inspirations that occur after the meetings: the shower thoughts, the falling asleep insights, the waking up with a new connection. These ideas, when the team’s subconscious has had some time to work on the challenge could prove to be incredibly beneficial. Allow for that feedback and insight. Provide a pipeline for new ideas – connected to the big themes and strong ideas from the collaboration – to be offered.

This allows for a complete process and for individuals to again provide their individual insights. It’s a strong way to complete the collaboration loop: from individual to group and back to individual.
Let the Brainstorming begin! (Ideate on that a while…)

  JB, Founder