Today's economy is not for the weak of heart. From new media to flexible work hours to diverse workplaces, the business of business has become more complex than it ever was before. To compete in the ever-changing marketplace, you have to flexible, creative, and daring without forsaking sensible business practices.
However, it's easy to get into a rut. Whether it's a team project or a personal goal, the stakes often seem a little high to risk trying something new. After all, if it's not broken, why fix it, right?
But sometimes it's a bigger risk to stay in the rut you're in. Whether your hemorrhaging money with wasteful, outdated processes, missing out on new business, or struggling with a problem that seems to defy solution, sticking to the same old way of doing things can be the kiss of death.
This is where brainstorming can really energize and transform a project or group. Through channeled group creativity, it is possible to re-imagine a situation, looking at it through many different viewpoints while garnering the resources of many different experiences.
Brainstorming (what I sometimes refer to as ideation), the art of collaborative daydreaming, is at the heart of innovation. In a brainstorming session, the creative gloves are off–anything is fair game, and nothing is too crazy, silly, unreasonable, or outlandish to be put on the table for consideration.
If you are looking for ways to shake up your sense of innovation and really explode the possibilities–either in your business or in your personal endeavors–a periodic brainstorming session could be just the boost you need. You may not only be looking for a solution for the problem you set out to solve, but solutions for problems you never knew you had!
When establishing a brainstorming session with colleagues, you need to set up some rules of play. Here are five suggestions to get your creative juices flowing while avoiding the pitfalls of group interaction that can get in the way of your creativity.
- Ditch the Critics. Brainstorming is not a time for critiques or nay-saying. The point of a brainstorming session is generate ideas, not shoot them down. Establish a moderator who will gently steer the session back to generative action, rather than one who allows ideas to be shot down.
- Honor the Scribe. Pretty soon after a session gets out of the starting gate, the ideas can begin to come pretty fast. And when everyone is generating multiple solutions, it's hard (and against the rules) to discern which ideas will work and won't work. That's why your team needs to establish a member who will write the ideas down. Every idea gets recorded, no matter how outlandish. A good way to keep track of ideas is to provide each team member with sticky notes and a pen. They can write their ideas on the sticky notes and stick them to the wall. When the session is done, the team can group the ideas into categories by moving the notes around. This method keeps team members engaged on many levels. Before the session ends, go through and rank the ideas so that everyone knows which ideas to focus on.
- Leave the Checkbook Behind. Ideas in and of themselves don't cost a thing. You can generate ideas–wacky, brilliant, foolish, clever ideas–all day long and never come near to breaking the bank. The right idea will bring financing sooner or later; that is not your job in a brainstorming session. This is the time to let the sky be the limit; you can figure out the numbers later.
- No Wallflowers Allowed. It's an established fact that every group has its share of extroverts and introverts. The moderator in a brainstorming session should make a point of encouraging all team members to express ideas–especially the quiet ones. Too often, assertiveness wins out in group situations. If a team neglects its quieter members, it can miss out on some of the most innovative ideas! Remember, it takes everyone to make a success.
- Light the Fuse. One of the best parts of a successful brainstorming session is when an idea catches fire, moving from one person to another with each building on the previous person's ingenuity. If a particular idea catches the team's fancy, dig deeper. Ask questions, pull in people from varying disciplines, view all sides of the idea to get a full, three-dimensional feel for it. The amount of creative energy can be magnified in moments like these.
In the end, a brainstorming session can leave a team energized with renewed purpose and focus. Solutions that had seemed impossible before are now flowing freely, and each member of the brainstorming team is invested with a sense of joint ownership.