If it’s time to freshen things up in the office or you’re thinking about changing your business model, you may be considering doing some brainstorming. Whether it be as founders or as a team, a wicked brainstorming session/day can be extremely effective.
If you’re thinking, ‘I brainstorm every day’, our definitions may vary. The art of brainstorming is to encourage team members or employees to put their heads together and come up with new, innovative ideas and solutions for your company. By inviting your team to come together and allowing creativity to flow, your idea pool expands from a founder’s perspective to a team perspective.
An expansion even the best startups should take advantage of.
So how do you lead an effective brainstorm session? What should you avoid? What should you encourage? We take the guessing out of planning and offer our five unconventional brainstorming tricks that your startup needs to try.
1. Take it out of the office.
We don’t care if you run the coolest and funnest startup this side of Palo Alto. Keeping your staff limited to inside the walls of your headquarters can be not only restricting but slightly monotonous. It’s time to tear down the walls (not literally of course) and get your team away from the office and out into the light of day.
By taking your team on a team outing or team weekend away, you’re not only jump starting creativity but you’re giving everyone a change of scenery – something that has been known to yield better results and boost employee morale. Book a weekend at a ski lodge or take your team to a national park. Incorporate a little bit of fun into the mix and you’ve successfully planned a team outing that is on track to deliver results.
2. Invest in a whiteboard. Or two. Or three.
When we were little kids, our minds were full of ideas, questions and thoughts. Without an extensive vocabulary, how did we get our creative juices flowing? Two words. Finger paint. Or crayons. And if you were lucky – markers.
Sometimes the best way to let ideas flow freely is not to think them out mentally before writing them down but to just go with it. Write everything that comes to mind down. The beauty of whiteboard is that you can continue to add and simply erase away if something becomes irrelevant or is just a bad idea. Whiteboards also allow employees to take a step back and view the entire picture.
Also great? Windows and post-its. Or walls and post-its. The point being that you can assign each employee with a pad of post-it notes and allow them to put ideas, thoughts, suggestions on each before attaching them to a surface for the team to view. We guarantee by combining team efforts and adding in the visual of seeing everyone’s thoughts come together, you’ll see immediate results.
3. Be different.
Lukas Biewald, co-founder of CrowdFlower, has an interesting way to get his team to brainstorm – he emails everyone independently instead of crowding everyone into a room and expecting them to be creative in front of others. “I think it is hard to keep them focused, and I tend to think there is a kind of groupthink that emerges,” says Biewald.
Take a step back and look at your team. Examine the dynamic. If you’ve been working together for awhile, then maybe all of your team members are comfortable enough in front of each other to voice their opinion and offer-up random ideas of brilliance. But if that isn’t the case or there’s one or two employees who definitely look like the wheels in their head are turning but they’re too shy to speak up – why not approach them separately?
By suggesting “hey – I think you might have some great ideas. Any chance you could fire me an email with your thoughts?” you’re still encouraging brainstorming efforts but you’re doing so in a manner that is comfortable for the employee. After all, they may have the best idea out of everyone. Don’t miss out on it because the idea-sharing environment best for them isn’t the same as everyone else.
4. Kick it old school – play hot potato.
Yes. You read that right. The childhood game of hot potato can become an excellent brainstorming technique.
Gather your team in a circle and use a beanbag, stress-ball or any other tossable object. You can choose to either enforce a time limit for each team member to come up with an idea or not but as each team member offers an idea, they toss the beanbag to the next random team member beginning their turn.
Not only does this switch things up, it forces the team to be quick on their feet (especially if a time restriction is enforced) and to be challenged when caught off guard. No one knows who will be next and the team must be consciously thinking of their next idea or contribution.
5. Be comfortable.
Did you know that people who wear socks typically generate 13% more ideas than those who don’t wear socks? Innovator and brainstorming guru Gerald “Solutionman’ Haman says, “I’ve found that if your feet are comfortable, your brain is comfortable.”
We cannot say enough about the power of being comfortable when required to really put our heads down and think; especially if we want to do so effectively. Why do you remove your shoes or tie when you get home from work? Why does it feel so great to change into something comfortable? Because it puts you in your happy place. And typically, thoughts tend to run freely and peacefully when you can find a moment of personal zen.
By recreating this idea of a comfortable, relaxed moment, you are giving your team a chance to sit back and relax but still encouraging them to think. But in this scenario, they are doing so comfortably. Similarly to the idea of taking your team out of the office for the day to brainstorm, allowing them to be in a less formal setting at the office can prove to generate better ideas.
Opt for couches or bean bag chairs in lieu of tables or desks. Provide refreshments or order-in breakfast or lunch for the team. If your startup doesn’t already have a relaxed dress code, consider relaxing it for the brainstorming day. Encourage comfy clothing. Your attention span is optimized when you’re comfortable.