Ideation and Brainstorming: The art of team building through agreement

Posted on July 2, 2014 · Posted in Branding, Business, Creativity, Internal Communications, Leadership, Marketing

July 1, 2014

What’s better than sitting in a bland conference room, sun beating through the windows and fluorescent lights buzzing while your boss drones on about a brainstorming session? Probably everything.

Brainstorming. It always begins with that cliché, “Remember, there are no bad ideas.” Which actually isn’t true. There are lots of bad ideas: The mullet. Parachute pants. New Coke…

And it’s not that bad ideas are bad, but rather we often lack the ability to recognize that great innovations may have iterated from bad starts. Most ideas are just seeds – tiny concepts with unreleased potential. If these seeds aren’t watered – aren’t explored – you may miss out on something great. Those who refuse to nurture ideas ignore the basic tenants of communication – openness, collaboration and vulnerability – and prevent the creation of a trusted team atmosphere.

Let’s look at how brainstorming sessions usually unfold. Everyone throws out ideas and someone writes them on a whiteboard or puts sticky notes on a wall. Preoccupied with their own ideas, few people truly listen to other suggestions. They want to be the one with the “right” idea. It’s the Lone Ranger affect – people think there’s one right idea rather than realizing that the best ideas are really iterations or combinations of others.

Brainstorming sessions are rife with this kind of thinking. Individuals hear suggestions but they aren’t listening to them. Take, for example, what it’s like to hear a truck go by us when we walk down the street; most of the time we don’t give it a second thought. But if we truly listen, we will learn the direction and general speed of that truck; what radio station they listen to; maybe even the kind of engine it has and if it’s been serviced recently.

Living in the Moment
This kind of attention to detail, the ability to live in the moment and contribute to and heighten an idea, is supremely important in the world of content marketing – where it’s story that matters, not our egos and the need to be “right.”

In improv comedy, this is called the rule of “yes, and.” No matter what someone says, the other performer must accept it (yes) and then add to it or heighten it (and), making it better. In business, we can call this synergy; combining our ideas to make them better.

Here’s a simple example. Joey Businessman starts an ideation session for reaching and engaging new customers with, “Pie is great.”  Sarah Businesswoman had an idea about cake… but she puts it aside to explore Joey’s pie idea. She says, “Yes, pie is great, and I think we should give one away to every new customer.” Joey follows with, “YES, and if we start making pies now, we can give them out all year long!” Joey and Sarah are building off one another, watering that seed and creating something better than the original idea.

But this ideation session could have gone horribly awry. Sarah could have let her ego get in the way, trying to cram her cake idea down Joey’s throat, even before the pie idea got off the ground. Joey: “Pie is great.” Sarah: “No, cake is great.” “No, pie is what’s happening.” It’s easy to see how there’s no forward movement. The discussion is stunted and nothing is accomplished. We’ve all walked out of meetings like this shaking our heads about the time we’ve wasted and the frustration we experienced.

Exploration vs. Elimination
I want to be clear here – not all ideas are appropriate for the parameters of a project. Still, by replacing the goal of elimination with exploration, a team can learn to communicate while, subconsciously, creating a more collaborative, trusted team atmosphere.

Look at it this way; once you lay out all the ideas, go through each one with the objective of exploring it as opposed to eliminating it. Treat each idea like it’s the best idea in the world, like it was your idea, and build upon it till you find a gem. Then move on to the next one.

With this approach, your bland, poorly lit and droning brainstorming sessions will transition into lively exchanges, that are actually…hold onto your seats…fun! But best of all, you’ll come away from these meetings with more creativity and innovation than you’ve had in the past, while building teams who like, trust and respect each other’s perspectives.