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Jason Keath (@jasonkeath) is the CEO and founder of Social Fresh.
He was a presenter at the most recent Social Fresh Conference. His session focused on owning your creative process, and how to get more out of your brainstorming sessions with colleagues.
Brainstorm meetings are pervasive in culture and businesses the world over.
Keath underlines the point that “when we talk about brainstorming, we’re talking about a process that has become synonymous with creativity.” People actually use the word brainstorming in place of the word creativity or idea generation or problem solving.
So if you want better brainstorming meetings, you should really be asking how you and your company can be more creative. Not how you can have a better meeting.
It turns out, the actual meeting part of a brainstorm is less important than what happens before and after that meeting.
Whether you’re trying to improve the creativity of your business or personally improve your problem solving skills, Keath emphasized that the solution is “giving yourself the permission to spend more time on a problem than others are willing to spend.”
Why We Suck At Brainstorming
The problems with brainstorming as a creative process in companies today comes from unfocused meetings and lack of time and resources. “Creativity requires real work and real effort,” said Keath.
If you put in the effort, and the time, anyone can become MORE creative.
Too often in today’s corporate culture brainstorm meeting are too short, not prepped, there is no plan, and there is no real effort to get the best ideas from those involved.
A lot of times, the person running the brainstorm meeting already knows what idea they want to go with and is wasting everyone else’s time.
And then there are the brainstorms that do not even get their own meeting, they only get a bullet on the larger meeting’s agenda.
A great example of how allowing more time with a problem can create great results is, Jerry Seinfeld, who almost everyone who tell you is a creative genius. Seinfeld took two years to write his famous pop tart joke (see below).
Two years. And he has been one of the most successful comedians of all time.
If someone as experienced and creative as Seinfeld takes two years to get one two-minute joke just right, then maybe we can all consider putting a little more time into our brainstorm meetings.
That is what Keath is asking anyone who wants to improve their brainstorming process to do. Below are the three places to focus on giving your creative process more time.
Three ways to build more time into your creative process:
1. Put MORE time into ideas before the meeting
There are social dynamics that come when people gather in a meeting together that don’t often allow for ideas to be freely expressed in a brainstorming session.
By inviting, or assigning, idea generation ahead of the meeting, you not only get people thinking about the problem for a longer period of time, you get way more ideas and a diverse spread of ideas ready to talk about.
And if you make this process anonymous, your idea quality will increase even more. Creativity comes with a sense of egotism, so the key to successful group brainstorming is to distill ideas anonymously.
Keath encourages people to list as many bad ideas as possible when first starting to brainstorm. Anonymity helps this. He says “bad ideas come in two categories, the obvious and the absurd. Both are important in order to find the great ideas in between.”
Encouraging people to include bad ideas creates more opportunities for connecting concepts, more opportunities for solutions.
Take all the ideas that your team has put together and put them into a spreadsheet or similar document that removes names of their owners. Categorize the ideas into groups. All this happens before the actual meeting.
Aside from this ego suppression, it saves time you would usually spend sitting around reading off ideas individually.
When you gather everyone into the brainstorming session, talk about which ones you can combine, improve and vote on the best ideas.
2. Put MORE time in planning the meeting
In order to get the most out of your team’s time in a brainstorming meeting, you have to spend more time creating a clear goal of your brainstorm. This means setting an agenda, creating clear outcomes that you want to get out, and creating a brief that gives your team background into the problem for them to think about.
Often times meetings are full of awesomeness, excitement and energy that comes after a great discussion and positive teamwork and then the ideas go completely nowhere. This is often because the team hasn’t put a follow up plan in place before the start.
Create your followup plan that outlines the outcomes of next steps before you go into the brainstorming meeting. What needs to happen after you reach your goal? Don’t waste all the ideas and time that has just been put into the creation and discussion.
These are just a couple elements of pre-brainstorm planning that rarely take place but can make all the difference. This planning should include these 6 elements, at least:
- Define The Problem — Every brainstorm should seek solutions to a problem. Define, on paper, the scope of the problem being attacked.
- Give Background — Ensure your team has a clear understanding of how things got to this point. Where the problem came from, past attempts to solve it, client details, timelines, etc.
- Define A Goal—Define what the final solution will accomplish as well as how many initial ideas are sought (50 is a good minimum).
- Give Examples—Give at least three examples of the types of solutions being sought.
- Detail Instructions — Write up and print out a one-page brainstorm plan that includes your problem, background, goal, examples, and team. Include the step-by-step process of your brainstorm sessions and any rules to play by.
- Detail Follow Up Plans – Create a time table for next steps. Assign a team in charge of next steps. Schedule the next meeting before the first meeting is done.
Whoever wants to call the brainstorm meeting has to do this prep work. This is more work, and not that easy. This rule alone will both reduce the number of brainstorms and increase the quality.
3. Get comfortable creating MORE ideas
How many ideas do you need to create before you find the right one? There’s no secret science, but you’re going to have to come up with more than one. A lot more.
This is something that can often times be uncomfortable for ourselves to realize, but we need to be diligent about putting ideas to paper and vetting them.
Comedians often write hundreds of different ideas for jokes before they take one public.
The writers at Saturday Night Live go through about 800 jokes, whittling them down to about 12-15 for its Weekend Update skit.
Keath says that if you look at successful problem solvers, the 50 to 100 idea range, becomes a consistent trend. He advises people working on personal projects or working alone (writers, musicians, etc) to try and shoot for at least 50 ideas for every winner that they hope to produce.
And he says if you’re a team, shoot for 100 ideas. There is power in numbers when it comes to creativity.
If you take a team of five people and each person spends and hour coming up with 20 ideas that’s 100 ideas. That’s not too difficult.
It might sound challenging, but this type of process will get you down to great combinations and mergers of thought that bring together a great idea at the end of the day.