Brainstorming ideas in order to find creative solutions and approaches to your work can be far more than getting everyone in a room to start throwing spitballs at a wall to see what sticks.
As a leader, you need to put as much time into refreshing your creative side as you do to responding to critical correspondence with colleagues and clients.
Women leaders, in particular, may have experienced silencing by more outspoken colleagues in the habit of “mansplaining.” Perhaps a meeting hog is in the habit of taking over a conversation or brainstorming sessions. These specific techniques to becoming more creative in finding solutions as an individual or a team will be helpful.#Brainstorming is more than throwing spitballs at a wall to see what sticks Click To Tweet
If you have been in one of those brainstorm sessions in conference rooms—often with a white board—you recognize pretty quickly that a lot of what is thrown out, should be, well, thrown out.
“Because creativity isn’t what we think it is,” writes Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCR, Principal, Applied Research + Consulting, Steelcase, in Work Design. “It’s not just teams coming up with wild ideas in brightly colored rooms with plenty of post-it notes and toys on the table to aid inspiration. It’s the ebb and flow between different types of work, states of mind and perspectives.”
Studies show that this creativity surge exercise can actually damage productivity. But it is also true that creativity can be positively nurtured. Here are definitive steps to make sure creative brainstorming and a consistent culture of creative thinking are alive in your work environment.Here are steps to make sure creative #brainstorming are alive at work #womenleaders Click To Tweet
1. Model creativity of thought and leadership. Hold meetings outside on a beautiful day, take a company field trip to a museum, art gallery or have a company book club where your monthly book suggestions have a theme of creativity. Demonstrate to your team that you are open to new ideas and that you are willing to entertain new ways of looking at the world and your work. Arrange for a speaker to come in for a brown bag lunch session on new ideas, go to a book signing or lecture at a local university on current events or topics related to your field of work “In your everyday life you may find yourself driven to make sense of the world around you through means you don’t immediately relate to creation. Journalling, talking openly with someone, meditation, mentoring others, are all good ways to make sense of the world. These acts also serve a powerful purpose for unlocking creativity, as they give us the perspective from which we build our ideas,” writes Tanner Christensen, author, Facebook design and founder of Creative Something.
2. Create a space for creative thinking. Create a work environment that is visually appealing, comfortable and creative. This can mean rotating art works on the walls, colorful seating and meeting areas and a willingness to think outside the box. Beyond group areas and cubicles or personal office space, some design thinkers call for a third place, where creativity can be explored. “The third place provides another option in office design not only for work but for your employees as well as those who thrive in an environment that doesn’t feel like an office. By adding a third place, you’re offering a comfortable, inviting, and relaxed gathering spot ripe for collaboration and conversation. This ensures that those who come to your office, daily or otherwise, feel supported and valued because they have somewhere to go to be creative, socialize a little, and work at their pace,” writes Jeff Pochepan in Inc.
“In your everyday life you may find yourself driven to make sense of the world around you through means you don’t immediately relate to creation. Journaling, talking openly with someone, meditation, mentoring others, are all good ways to make sense of the world. These acts also serve a powerful purpose for unlocking creativity, as they give us the perspective from which we build our ideas,” writes Tanner Christensen, author, Facebook design and founder of Creative Something. .
3. Foster a company culture where suggestions and creative ideas are honored. This can be as simple as a suggestion box, or leaving time at the end of every staff meeting or check-in for new ideas and topics to discuss. Be sure not to be dismissive or condescending of anyone’s efforts to offer improvements or revisions on process or procedures. “This is not the time to say, ‘That’s not possible,’ or, ‘We don’t have the money for that.’ Squelch the negative talk and stick to generating ideas,” writes Kelly King, Women’s Ministry Specialist in Lifeway.
4. Be playful. This does not mean you do not work hard and meet deadlines and produce what needs to be done. Nor does it mean you need to install a ping pong table in the lobby or conference room. But acknowledge that a little playfulness and time allotted for free thinking is optimal. “Companies, such as Google, NASA, and Coca-Cola, are catching onto the idea of using bricks to communicate. In their sessions, participants are expected to use Lego pieces to answer a prompt given by the facilitator. The ‘unplugged’ approach, which relies on your hands to create, has become a popular way of brainstorming ideas that are hard to express otherwise. When your hands work freely to construct items, you can physically see and build upon your existing structures. Other people who see your creation can then contribute by adding their own designs,” writes Melissa Chu in Medium.
5. Observe keenly. When you are aware of your workplace culture, the interactions of your team, your clients needs and the processes and outcomes you achieve, you may begin to see more clearly what needs to be done and innovative ways to achieve solutions. Take notice of how people work together and if similar comments pop up frequently from different team members. Notice if people talk about the timing of meetings being inconvenient or if certain processes are a waste of time. Notice if one member of the team solves a problem successfully and how she did it, and how another team member cannot approach a similar project with the same outcomes. A creative solution may arrive just by being vigilant in how you observe. Listen. Read body language. See the signs that are in front of you. “Being observant is something that can make you look like the smartest in the room, and something that can be highly beneficial to you in other ways too. Noticing little details gives you more information to work with and thus helps you to make better more informed decisions,” writes Stanley C. Loewen in Health Guidance.
6. Brainstorm with purpose. Present your team with a goal and a framework that is not so open-ended that time is wasted. Allow for individual ideas to pop up, then group work or pairs to dscuss and for teams to come up with solutions. This should not be a free-for-all session. Art Markman writes in Harvard Business Review, that open-ended brainstorming of everyone shouting out an idea and someone writing it down is a losing proposition. “There are several reasons for this productivity loss, as academics call it. For one, when people work together, their ideas tend to converge. As soon as one person throws out an idea, it affects the memory of everyone in the group and makes them think a bit more similarly about the problem than they did before.” Markman, author Smart Thinking, Smart Change, and Habits of Leadership, is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. Instead of random lobbing of haphazard thoughts, directing the creative process is essential. He advises imposing frameworks or structures that involve individual brainstorming, then, what he calls, “the 6-3-5 method” when “six people sit around a table and write down three ideas. They pass their stack of ideas to the person on their right, who builds on them. This passing is done five times, until everyone has had the chance to build on each of the ideas. Afterward, the group can get together to evaluate the ideas generated.”
7. Move the best ideas forward and find what’s best about the other ideas. In the group discussion process of brainstorming, deconstruct why some ideas may work best as solutions. Say what attributes the suggestions have, perhaps the idea is simple to implement, perhaps it saves money, perhaps it is a natural expansion of an idea or product that already is doing well. Make sure everyone knows why something is working and may advance to implementation. Otherwise it will feel like a popularity game. The ideas that do not earn as much traction, make sure you acknowledge and honor those as well, and talk about those needing to be developed further, given more thought or explained in a new way. Do not say any idea is bad. Because we all know some of the world’s best products and ideas were ridiculed at first.
8. Embrace the cultural quotient of your team and the diversity of ideas. Having a diverse team of employees and colleagues from different cultures and with different backgrounds, races and interests can foster the creative brainstorming process. “So how do the best organizations harness this incredible creative power while avoiding the stressful situations that a diverse workplace can bring? The key, quite simply, is to learn to understand one another,” writes Salma El-Shurafa, Executive Coach and founder of The Pathway Project, in Your Training Edge. “It starts with better understanding ourselves through assessing and improving our level of cultural intelligence, by which we mean our knowledge and understanding of key cultural similarities and differences. Cultural Quotient was developed by Professors Soon Ang and Linn Van Dyne as a way of measuring cultural intelligence and predicting intercultural performance. Those with a high CQ are attuned to the values, beliefs, behaviors and body language of people from different cultures, and they use this knowledge to interact with others successfully.”
9. Brainstorm with yourself and your team often. This should not be an annual exercise. Weekly is a lot, semi-annually too much, monthly might be just right. And also you can brainstorm with yourself—writing down your goals and ideas on an idea board and keeping a journal of observations and inspirations so that your ideas and internal innovator is always “on.” Strong women leaders inhabit fresh ideas each day. “They try to do something each and every day to push themselves forward, even if it’s simply reading up on what’s happening in the world, brainstorming with a creative colleague or learning a new word,” writes Brendan Della Casa in Your Tango.
Tracy Brower writes, “Creativity isn’t only about group collaboration. It also requires individual focus. Exposure to diverse perspectives and the thinking of the group is important, but so is the time for quiet reflection and the incubation of ideas.”
10. Correct what isn’t working in the brainstorming process. Group work should not mean some people work hard and some do nothing. We all know people on teams who think a group project is the ideal chance to sit back and do nothing. In academia, we used to call these people “coasters.” Jessica Thiefels writes in Talent Development, “Collaboration is a great way of using collective knowledge to create greater output and be more efficient. Unfortunately, this collective knowledge sharing can cause quiet or disengaged employees to rely on co-workers.” So perhaps decide who will be leading the brainstorming on smaller teams. “With fewer people at the table, you can focus on who actually needs to be involved, who will offer the greatest value, and who can focus on other projects.“Creativity can be a glorious process. It can also be chaotic. #CarpeTheChaos Click To Tweet
Creativity can be a glorious process and space for brainstorming, innovation, and solution-finding. It can also be chaotic. As Gloria Feldt, president and co-founder of Take The Lead, espouses in her 9 Leadership Power Tools, “carpe the chaos.” Power tool # 5 espouses: “Change creates chaos. Today’s changing gender roles and economic turbulence may feel chaotic and confusing. But chaos also means boundaries become more fluid. That’s when people are open to new ways of thinking, to innovation, and to new roles for women. Carpe the chaos, for in chaos is opportunity.”