The Ideas Called Wild
Originally published October 25, 2017 by The Montrose Daily Press
Editor’s note: This column may look familiar. Chelsea Rosty’s weekly column previously published on Tuesdays and is debuting in its new location today. Read previous columns on montrosepress.com.
It’s long since been established that two heads are better than one and though great ideas may be born of a single mind, they are rarely carried out by one. Most great leaders understand this concept in theory. But, when the junk flies or when faced with challenges like staying relevant, very few leaders can carry out the art of successful idea generation within a team.
It is difficult. Unless everyone in the workplace holds hands and sings Kumbaya every morning (if you do this, will you please invite me?), people don’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas in front of their peers, let alone their boss.
If you need ideas and you need them quick, here’s how to facilitate a killer brainstorming session with any team:
1. Present the problem or idea you’re searching for currently. Maybe you want to put your finger on that Big Hairy Audacious Goal (for more on this, read the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins) or cut costs on the production line. Clearly explain the issue.
2. Try a quick ice breaker: Have people in the room pair up. Ask them to draw their partner. Listen to the conversations as this is taking place and take note of it. You will most likely hear things like, “I’m sorry, this is really bad.” “Don’t judge me.” “I’m a terrible artist.” Interestingly enough, if you gave this same assignment to 5 year olds, you’d heard nothing of the sort. Most likely, they would take their drawing home with pride and ask their mom to put it on the fridge.
Somewhere along the way, we have suppressed our creative spirit for fear of criticism, exposure, or not being good enough. This exercise will reignite creative courage and vulnerability in each of your team members.
3. Lay down the brainstorming rules. This is really important for establishing a level playing field where everyone feels comfortable contributing. Once you present the rules, you also have to moderate; assuring people respect what’s been asked of them. The design firm OpenIDEO uses the following rules for brainstorming:
• Defer judgment
Creative spaces don’t judge. They let the ideas flow, so that people can build on each other and foster great ideas. You never know where a good idea is going to come from, the key is make everyone feel like they can say the idea on their mind and allow others to build on it.
This still means we pose questions and provocations so that the ideas can get to a better place.
• Encourage wild ideas (My personal favorite)
Wild ideas can often give rise to creative leaps. In thinking about ideas that are wacky or out there we tend to think about what we really want without the constraints of technology or materials. We can then take those magical possibilities and perhaps invent new technologies to deliver them.
• Embrace the most out-of-the-box notions and build, build, build...
• Build on the ideas of others
Being positive and building on the ideas of others takes some skill. In conversation, try using “yes and” instead of “but...”
• Stay focused on the topic
Keep the discussion on target, otherwise you can diverge beyond the scope of what you’re trying to design for.
• One conversation at a time
Always think about the topic at hand and how this could apply.
• Be visual
In live brainstorms use colored markers to write on Post-Its that are put on a wall. Nothing gets an idea across faster than drawing it. Doesn’t matter how “terrible” of a sketcher you are. It’s all about the idea behind your sketch.
Does someone else’s idea excite you? Maybe make them an image to go with their idea.
• Go for quantity
Aim for as many new ideas as possible (add them all to Post-Its and put them on the wall). In a good session, up to 100 ideas are generated in 60 minutes. Make sure each team member is given an opportunity to bring their Post-It notes to the wall and share their ideas.
• Crank the ideas out quickly. The quality will follow.
4. After all the Post-Its have been posted, start arranging them in clusters based on common themes. Communicate the emerging themes with the team and ask for their input.
5. Pass out stickers (cheap dot stickers work just fine). Each team member should “vote” for their three favorite ideas with stickers placed on the associated Post-It. This usually works best done in silence where one team member cannot use the power of influence over another. Diversity in viewpoint is essential.
6. Take pictures of the clusters. If one idea emerges as “the one,” be sure you pursue it and begin testing and ideating on it immediately.
The practice of brainstorming can begin at any level of an organization; don’t limit yourself because your boss isn’t interested (yet!). Create an environment where your team solves problems together on a consistent basis and you will experience the magic of practice: you will get better at it. Instead of the “OMG, what do we do now?” reaction, you will find yourself picking up the Post-Its and Sharpies and heading to the conference room.
All the great ideas have not yet been thought of. You have the power right inside you to bring them out in yourself and those around you. Humans are wired to create; whether building with our hands or our minds, creation is the match that lights the soul. Reach for the ideas called wild, unknown and crazy.
Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of BusinessInnovation, City of Montrose. Reach her at email@example.com.