In my last article regarding ideation, I suggested that conflict, not harmony, made for better team ideation results. But before strapping up your armor to participate in a heated ideation session, there are some critical points of preparation that are needed and the first one is an ideation brief or briefing that will help kick start the team into their critical thinking.
Sun Tzu ended “The Art of War” with a chapter on intelligence and counter-intelligence, but when one is looking for a new idea that is where to start. Prepare your team with a brief of the situation including the core elements needed to create a solution to the client’s problem. There are numerous versions of briefs around the web that can provide direction to help you create an effective one. A good brief is critical to the success of the project. By defining a client’s needs clearly, the team can avoid distraction and deliver real results. Equally important is answering the why, when and how: why are they being asked to solve it, how will the ideas be used and when will the ideas be implemented. An example might be “how would you get young adults or late teens to consume more hot coffee via social media in 2012?” The team might be derailed if they argue the benefits or detriments of coffee as an appropriate beverage for teens or get too carried away by weighing factors like caffeine versus antioxidants that are relevant, but don’t address the solution. To do a good brief, you have to give the team enough understanding of objective, directing them on the task and allowing enough ambiguity for exploration. The result should be solutions based upon their collective thinking related to the customers, the culture, where the product would be consumed or purchased, economic considerations, the product itself, new uses for the product, past accepted uses and practices, past successful or failed campaigns for getting more people to drink coffee via social media and how all these factors influence each other. If you have prior research, personas or previous campaigns, the briefing is the time to make sure everyone has access to the material.
Sun Tzu’s ideas require time to implement. Creative ideas require time as well. In fact, studies have shown that our best thinking is done when we are relaxed and not directly focused on the problem and that requires time, hours, even days. So once your team is briefed, turn them loose and give them a minimum of a day to come up with their solutions. Attempting to hammer out a solution by keeping the team together is the least effective technique I know to get genuinely new solutions. When teams tackle problems together it is very easy to get into a virtual loop and follow it, just as people who are lost tend to walk in circles. With regard to relaxation, I have seen brainstorming consultants fill a room with little toys in an attempt to relax their corporate teams but the reality is they are still confined and tasked with a deadline in a room where any sense of fun or play is merely contrived. Dismiss the team and actually give them the hours to do it their own way. It is not mere coincidence that companies like Google and Nike have everything from table tennis to warm showers on their corporate campuses. So instead of focusing really hard on the problem, engaging in another activity or merely relaxing can be more productive then being together until ideas are forced.
Relaxation is the real key to productive ideation. The simple act of walking can trigger ideation. Einstein once said: “The legs are the wheels of creativity” and “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.” He knew how important relaxation was to his thinking. So for your next brainstorming session, have your team go do something relaxing or engaging that is not directly focused on the task. Encourage everyone on your team to keep notes of ideas that might be forming if they can, when they can, but without rules. I recommend the use of moleskin style notebooks or even notes on the smartphone to keep track of ideas. Work in a style that is individualistic to you and you cannot go wrong.
In my last part of this blog series on creativity I will address the presentation of ideas and the techniques to using criticism and conflict to sharpen the final output of brainstorming or ideation.