Holding brainstorming sessions is easy. It’s the actual brainstorming that’s tough — and often ineffective. As the boss, how do you get your team to come up with great ideas on the spot, and then actually follow through?
Members from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) share their ideas:
1. Ask your team to think fast
We encourage thinking on your feet, so every meeting typically includes a spur of the moment prompt, where each person quickly throws out any idea that comes to mind. Crazy is OK.
We then document the results and decide which to go deeper on as a group. Don’t focus on what isn’t possible or what’s hard; rather, focus on how we can solve it. Execution is a function of a decision to commit to a project, then the discipline to follow through.
We record our actions and the teammate briefs the team weekly until complete. This keeps us all accountable to one another.
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2. Show gratitude
In order to get the most out of my team for a brainstorming session, we ask everyone to reach out via phone to someone they are grateful towards prior to the session. When we start the meeting, everyone comes in with a positive and open mind. The results are spectacular.
3. Ask for the worst idea in the room
When creativity is at a standstill, or a project is particularly difficult, I like to challenge our team members to come up with the worst idea possible. Sometimes we even make it a competition, trying to one-up each other with even more ridiculous and off-the-wall ideas.
This is a great way to infuse fun and laughter in to what might otherwise be a stressful and tedious meeting. Usually, after a few minutes of sharing terrible ideas, someone will have a breakthrough. In fact, some of the most successful ideas can be re-imagined versions of the off-the-wall ideas someone posed just minutes earlier.
At the end of every brainstorming meeting, we assign next steps, go around the room to ensure everyone knows her individual follow-ups, and set clear next steps for regrouping.
4. Know your team
One thing that helps to spur creativity is to have your team take a personality trait test and share their test results with their peers at a meeting. It’s a fun and different way of helping foster a deeper understanding about each team member that will incite new and more effective/creative ways to think collectively.
5. Make it a team effort
To spur creativity, we play “Yes… and…” For a given problem, each team member provides a solution that is not to be judged by anyone. Instead, another team says, “Yes I like this idea because… and we can also…”
Slowly the team will loosen up and come out with a long list of creative approaches. Of course, not all will be practical in the end. However, some of the most creative solutions can be gathered this way. Once we pick our way to go, we use transparency of progress as a way to create accountability.
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6. Incorporate humor
Humor is brain juice. Dopamine and endorphins keeps tension low, morale high, and bring people toward a state of engagement. Everything in a brainstorming session should be fair game for making fun of. Bring people into the room who can make people laugh.
Extra credit for having Play-Doh, and other fun tactile objects, that stimulate various regions of the brain. Also make sure people are fed. Forming new ideas takes up a lot of chemical resources.
7. Know when to stop
Sometimes there’s only one right answer to a creative conundrum, from how the trade show booth should look to the headline and font for the new campaign. The simple, elegant, smart choice wins, and often the best answer comes up early on because it didn’t require too much thinking.
“Let’s feature our customers” makes perfect sense for a barbershop looking to deepen its local roots. But the real creative work begins in fleshing out the look, feel, and execution of the campaign.
8. Take a walk
When I want to get the creative juices flowing on our team, we go for a walk. We call these “walkies” where we go for a 15 minute walk and talk about life. Generally, the conversation always goes back to work.
There is something about nature that spurs a person to be more creative. It will help you see the world better. I find that being healthy and alert will always boost up the creative side in people as well.
9. Provide special incentives
We value the creativity of our employees in routine brainstorming sessions and always encourage them to think “outside the box.” To show our appreciation for their creativity and implementation of a successful project, we reward them with special incentives like a weekend getaway.
10. Showcase your ideas
Our office has a massive whiteboard that we use to brainstorm and stay focused. Being able to walk into the office every day and see your ideas in front of you is a constant reminder of what needs to get done. It’s definitely an accomplishment to be able to erase something when it has been completed.
11. Don’t brainstorm
Brainstorming sessions with “no bad ideas” and “freedom of thought” suffer from the paradox of choice. The participants aren’t given specific enough goals or parameters and often don’t come up with the most effective ideas.
In place of a brainstorming session, we break each task down into very specific areas, and have each team or individual attack each idea with a purpose. This gives them not only a starting location, but also a direction and produces great results when combined with other teams/individuals who are given different tasks and directions.
12. Bring wine and demand results
Every Friday my team gets together for what we call the “Eatin’ Meetin'”. This is our time to relax, throw around ideas, and talk about our deliverables for the week. Everyone eats cheese, drinks wine, and brainstorms.
When someone throws out an idea and it’s well received, we simply talk about how we can make it happen and who can lend a hand. And that becomes their deliverable to report on for the next Eatin’ Meetin’.
If it’s a new social tactic, they automatically know that I’ll want to see numbers. If it’s a new content idea, they automatically know I’ll want to know if the client liked and approved the piece. It’s understood that even the most exciting, cool idea will need results.
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