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How To Rock Your Creative Brainstorm

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Your hear the familiar ‘ping’ of your email inbox, click to read your new message and see a meeting request: ‘Team Brainstorm.’ Depending on your personality type, this might fill you with enthusiasm or dread.

The walls have come down in traditional workspaces giving way to open-plan layouts and collaborative working, and formal meeting rooms have been replaced with informal ‘breakout’ spaces, but the brainstorm session has stood fast by its tried-and-tested roots. But just how effective are these spitballing sessions? Isn’t it the case that she-who-shouts-loudest is the only voice to be heard? It’s a scenario where extroverts shine and introverts remain an untapped well of potential ideas.

If the objective is to inspire innovation and stimulate creativity, maybe it’s time to shake-up the brainstorm formula. Here are three methods you can try to rock your creative brainstorm:

1. The full attention approach

In her book Time to Think, Nancy Kline says that the “quality of our thinking, depends on the way we treat each other while we are thinking”. She champions ten components that can create a thinking environment. The magic 10 includes listening with full attention–and without interruption, giving participants equal turns to play thinker, encouraging diversity of thinking, and an environment of ease, without rush or urgency.

In an environment where people typically try to ‘fill the silence’ and where extroverts contribute readily to the exclusion of their introverted peers, the thinking environment is quite a cultural shift. The brainstorm leader poses a question and then hands the baton to the next person in the round, with each person taking their equal turn to share their best thinking and all ideas respected.

2. The mindful approach

The benefits of practicing mindful meditation have been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, and to help people cope with depression. The technique is based on the idea of being aware of thoughts and feelings in the present moment using breathing and meditation principles, slowing the internal chatter enough to allow new clarity of thought.

First, simply practice the technique. Gather the team in a new environment–let participants first be mindful of the space around them, taking note of their surroundings using all the senses. What can they hear? See? What textures are around them? How do they feel? Encourage people to keep the present moment their focus–that every time their mind wanders, they come back to the here and now. Once the pace has slowed, encourage physical movement, possibly getting the team to walk around and introduce a brainstorm topic, allowing them the time to focus and notice what thoughts, ideas and feelings bubble up to the surface. Then bring the team back together to share their individual insights, so the whole team has had an input and feels ‘invested’ in the pool of solutions and ideas.

3. The new angle approach

Step into someone else’s shoes. A coaching tool that’s often applied to problem-solving and conflict resolution is getting an individual to see a situation from another person’s perspective. When a team participates in a brainstorm, they will–although subconsciously–be thinking within the boundaries and limitations of the company as they know it. Shake it up by introducing a new angle to the brainstorm. Once you’ve exhausted the initial stream of ideas, pose the challenge from thinking in the shoes of another company. Choose a company known for innovation–for example, “what would Apple do?” Choose a competitor. Choose a celebrity. In looking at a problem through fresh eyes, the team will be accessing the creativity part of their brain and, ultimately, new ideas will magically flow.

Photo: Thinkstock

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@Emma Gwillim‍ love your inclusion of mindfulness via meditation. One of the smartest people I know, @Bryan Franklin‍, once said that meditating for part of a meeting makes the rest of the time in that meeting so much more productive / effective that it more than compensates for the time spent pressing pause and meditating.

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The mindful approach sounds very interesting. I am thinking I will try and incorporate that at home during my times of mediation.

Thank you for the wonderful advice, Emma!

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