Drive Innovation With Productive BrainstormingJune, 14 2012
It really made me stop and think about the power of collective thought to ignite creativity and innovation.
If done well.
Sappi did it right. They assembled a team with varying expertise; an ink supplier, a digital press manufacturer, an ad agency, a retailer, a publisher, and a printer. They thoughtfully included one representative from the pillars of the information distribution industry.
The goal of the session was to discuss ideas and concepts and idenity key issues as the industry moves forwards. It was very much a big picture, philosophical discussion. I assume the agenda and the objectives were more detailed, but I don’t have those details.
They conducted a second session with the same group combined with a second group who had already met separately on the topic of sustainability. They meshed the thoughts from the first session with those from the sustainability session.
According to Mr. Sacks’ account, the session was extremely productive and forward-thinking. Getting input from many vantage points was beneficial not only for the outcome of the thinking, but for each individual as they go back to their own organizations.
It struck me, because these types of free-thinking, brainstorming sessions can go either way. They can be a colossal waste of time, or they can be incredibly energizing. What goes into a good brainstorming meeting or retreat?
- Establish the goal for the session. What type of outcome or big picture problem are you trying to solve?
- Determine the agenda. Once the goal is established, you can determine what you want to discuss and how to get there. Be creative, and call in help if you need it. You might want to have more than one session as Sappi did in the example above.
- Invite your attendees. Cherry pick the right people, and the right mix. You want forward-thinking, smart and innovative people who will be open to a variety of ideas and opinions, and debate respectfully.
- Assign homework. Some of the best retreats I have attended actually assign advance work for all the attendees. Bring everyone up to speed on relevant issues – send out a package with materials they need to review such as annual reports, marketing collateral, vision/mission, business or marketing plans… any relevant work that has been done to date.Depending on your meeting and your needs, you can pay attendees for their time and be more demanding of their preparation. I have a colleague who has been in a similar situation and was asked to prepare a 15-minute presentation based on the materials, and the problem to be solved. This process provided a structured way to brainstorm and unleash the creativity in the room.
After each presentation the group debated the thinking.
It’s truly an effective way of making brainstorming work. Too often, a lot of work goes in to these sessions and the outcome is less than desirable. Putting in the extra work to develop a solid agenda, a good group of thinkers, and most of all, well-thought out assignments can will result in some fanttasitc ideas and innovation. Each individual really fed off the energy in the room and the ideas were flying.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. Someone has to execute the great ideas, but that’s for a different post.
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve been involved in a think tank or brainstorming session such as this. What has or hasn’t worked for you? Anything to add?