Brainstorming is a teamwork technique focused on enhancing creativity and innovation. Its objective is to generate a new, different approach to solve a problem or face a project. The result of this type of session is a list of ideas contributed spontaneously by the members of the group to generate an alternative line of thought. But, how to achieve that really suggestive, novel, creative, useful, potentially applicable ideas are contributed ?; Ideas that generate a viable alternative or action plan?
In this post we will see how you can organize and lead effective group sessions for a better creative result. Do not forget that it is a technique. Fun, yes, but a technique with a methodology and a goal. Brainstorming is one of the most common methods to generate new ideas, yet it is very common that it does not produce the expected results. Let’s see how to make it really useful for your organization and not become a waste of time.
Creativity pushes you to approach a problem from all possible angles, instead of only attacking it from a linear logical approach. It helps you to reach a deeper understanding of things, to see them in a more positive way, to relativize and to better manage uncertainty.
Everyone has the ability to be more creative. There are people who think that they are not creative, but it is not true. Your mind is constantly generating ideas. Solving problems such as: what is the best way to go to a certain place, the best clothes for today’s weather forecasts … Everyone has the ability to increase and train their creative abilities, and apply them to more areas of their life and his work. It is a matter of attitude.
And there are very good reasons to empower your team’s creative skills through brainstorming sessions and other methodologies. Apart from generating a flow of contributions for your entity, it makes people feel more listened to and involved in the organization. Break their routine. It makes them feel better and more positive to face challenges and problems.
Furthermore, creativity does not only apply to fundraising campaigns or communication. It can be applied to any area of your entity, from the organization of the workspace to the management of volunteers. Let’s see how.
The innovation capacity of an organization is in the people who are part of it. Creativity is a teamwork skill and you can get better ideas if you surround yourself with people who contribute to it. Therefore, the first and most critical step to be successful in your brainstorming session is to choose the participants.
When setting up the creative group, make sure it is a diverse team, people of different profiles. Interaction with diversity helps people to generate more possibilities. Therefore, you must create a diverse group from 3 points of view: function within the organization, gender and culture. That they come from different departments, and have different skills and knowledge, will help us not only to produce more ideas but also to be able to evaluate them better. Cultural diversity will be more difficult to achieve, but as far as possible, it is very interesting to have people with different cultural backgrounds. And when it comes to gender, diversity will provide us with a much richer range of nuances and perspectives than a group of only women or only men can offer us. If the topic allows it, inviting an outsider or collaborator can help to get the right composition.
To make the session functional, create a group of no more than 12 people. And make sure they are really motivated to participate. In no case can it be an obligation. And, on the other hand, they must understand the importance of the issue and commit themselves responsibly.
Also, make sure they have adequate knowledge on the subject. They won’t be able to make relevant contributions if they don’t know anything about it. And finally, establish some kind of reward. It doesn’t have to be a job benefit and, in fact, it is better when it is not a reward of that type. The best dynamic is established when the reward is based on helping and being helped.
By creating these creative groups, you will generate new work environments that will break the relationships, organizational chart and standard processes of the organization. This will automatically produce new approaches, and new dynamics that foster creativity beyond the brainstorming sessions themselves. We are going to see the next steps you have to take to organize a spectacular workshop to generate good ideas.
Organizing the session
We have already answered who question. The next question is where. The environment should be comfortable, have light, and have the necessary tools for group work (mainly a blackboard), but it is not necessary to be extremely creative in the search for exotic locations. Although intuition, and fashion, tells us that a different location predisposes to a creative attitude, the efforts you make in the location of the sessions will not have a great impact on the results. Make sure that participants have all the necessary comforts and that they can focus on the topic of the session as soon as possible. The best ideas come to you in the shower, but luckily, you won’t need to recreate exactly the same environment for your brainstorming session.
Now let’s get to what. All group members should receive a clear definition of the problem to be addressed prior to the session. Ideally, the topic should be simple and narrow down to a single goal. Likewise, all sessions will begin with the presentation of the topic, background, planned time, structure of the session and expected results.
It is important that you work on the exhibition to make a good definition of the subject and the scope of action. The better you describe the scope and objectives of the session, the more useful the ideas provided will be. In brainstorming, all participants should bring new concepts, no matter how absurd they may seem. And, thus, foster new connections with the ideas that other people have shared. Usually this dynamic leads us to other tangentially related topics, or different from the one raised. Think that they are not useless contributions. The history of science is full of examples of incredible discoveries that have occurred when, in reality, you were looking for different things. However, although the exploration of collateral issues is positive for the general dynamics, it must be redirected if the focus is lost for a long time. As a dynamizer of the session you will have to control the focus and the time at every moment.
On the other hand, the initial presentation must establish the limits that affect the challenge, project or problem: time, budget, legal regulation, corporate policy, strategic plan guidelines … Do not hesitate to establish limitations. This will make the participants focus their creativity on ideas that are viable, and enhance it. When we are faced with a creative process we tend to think that limitations are an obstacle to generating new ideas. However, limitations are necessary and increase our creativity. The more limitations they impose on us to attack a topic, the more creativity we will need to apply.
The brainstorming session should defer in time the evaluation, or criticism, of the participants contributions, and enhance the amount. For the success of the session, it is necessary to reduce social inhibition and stimulate the production of ideas. The greater the number of ideas contributed, the greater the possibilities of associating and combining contributions that lead us to new formulations of the solution.
The stage of evaluating the ideas will come later. In the brainstorming session we must concentrate on contributing, and absorb any type of contribution without making judgments. Focused on combining divergent lines of thought and generating new approaches.
But this dynamic must be trained. Don’t expect people who are not related to this technique to be able to interact properly right out of the box. If you can, begin by posing a session on simple problems, focused on all participants assimilating the dynamics. And then attack more complicated subjects.
As a guide for the sessions, you should also manage the group dynamics so that there are no people who monopolize the interventions, or who intimidate other people and limit the contribution of ideas. You must also ensure that hierarchies are not established, nor interferences related to the ego of the participants occur. You must keep the team together in an environment of trust and assertiveness, and all its members involved.
Now, let’s focus on the methodology to collect the ideas. I recommend that you divide the group into subgroups of two or three people for a certain time of, for example, 15 minutes. Each subgroup will work separately and collect ideas in writing. You can have everyone working on the general topic or divide it into subtopics and distribute it among the different groups. Each group will give you the ideas they have generated and you will put them together. From here, everyone will participate in expanding, combining ideas or contributing new ones. When this second part of the session is completed, you will have a list of ideas to work on and you can call a second evaluation session.
It is important that the working subgroups are not stable, that they change from one session to another. And also, that the ideas are not identified with a specific person, since the participants will feel more or less predisposed to a contribution depending on who has thought it. Try to avoid that bias.
In addition to all that has been said, as a facilitator of the work group, you should try to ensure that all members pay attention to the ideas of others and not focus on their own. You have to motivate members, correct mistakes, and provide a clear work standard. Combine individual and group approaches. Allow enough time for people to think things through carefully, with whatever silences are necessary. And manage the energy level of the group, adapting the time, the breaks and the different activities depending on the general mood.
How to evaluate ideas
The brain is a wonderful and mysterious organ capable of producing the most extraordinary ideas, but it also generates many ideas that are not creative. A creative idea must meet three criteria: it must be new, useful, and surprising. New does not mean that it is totally unknown to the organization, but it does mean that it is new from your perspective. Many times a new approach to an old idea is the typical solution that we had in front of our noses. It must be useful and therefore it must be practicable and it must be beneficial in some way. And it must be surprising. Cause surprise in the sense of the small astonishment that an idea produces when it makes us ask ourselves: why hadn’t this occurred to me before? A simple, obvious and brilliant solution that immediately seems like a good idea, a great idea.
In the creative process, we generate a concept and then explore it. We relate two themes that do not have a clear connection between them and we combine them into a new concept that can sometimes seem totally absurd. And that, in fact, it can be. One hundred percent absurd :-). But when we are able to connect that new concept with the solution of a problem or some kind of benefit, bingo!, eureka! We have an idea that is worth exploring and testing.
How to choose the ideas with the most potential? It is important that, before gathering the ideas, you establish objective criteria. With four or five aspects to score it would be enough, it does not have to be very complex. Fundamentally, you need to assess how the idea fits with the culture of your organization and what impact its application has both at the level of potential benefit and, for example, at the level of application cost or time. Collect all the ideas in standard format: name, description, benefits it brings, target to which it is directed and risks. Allow all group members to individually access all formatted ideas and use defined evaluation criteria to rate ideas anonymously. This will help you close a short list of finalist ideas.
Finally, call a new session to share arguments for and against on the short list of ideas, to help you select the ones to be put into practice.
We have everything ready to start
Establishing techniques, processes and sessions to increase the level of creativity in your organization is a great idea. Innovation is the constant that makes organizations adapt to the times and evolve or, on the contrary, stagnate and lose themselves in irrelevance.
Creative thinking is structured thinking. It is based on models that we apply systematically each time we are faced with a new situation or when solving problems. We must take advantage of the fact that our mind continuously generates lines of thought that explore alternatives until they find one that fits a model, with a deep structure, and that takes us to a new place, to a solution. Divergent thinking occurs fluidly, generates many ideas, and draws unexpected connections in our minds. It is a type of thinking related to a nonconformist, curious, persistent, risky personality. Take advantage of this ability, and put the minds of your work team to work in a synchronized way. It will be an effort that will undoubtedly generate a great return on investment.