Many people think that brainstorming is nothing more than a group of people sitting at a boardroom table, throwing some ideas around and then plotting them out on a piece of butcher’s paper or a white board. Most participants also find that this experience of generating ideas is not always the most constructive use of their time. The creative output from these sessions languishes on the page or board – and the next set of great ideas don’t actually make it into the everyday workplace plans.
At a time when there’s a strong push in the workplace to maximise productivity, whether it’s through resourcing initiatives such as teams that follow the sun, or simply adopting new technology that allows you to get the job done more quickly, it’s a workplace imperative that we constantly rethink and examine how we work. A UK study found that for workers in an office, when information is displayed more visually – such as through visual maps – individuals are 17 per cent more productive and need to use 20 per cent less mental resources. What’s more, the results showed that teams that collaborate on a joint project use 10 per cent less mental resources, and are a whole 8 per cent more productive when using visualisation tools, such as mindmaps to brainstorm.
As a society, we are finding new ways to transcend borders, job roles and even cultural norms, and it’s clear that technology is a great driver of this ongoing change. Working better together with external partners and across time zones is increasingly a team requirement and it is encouraged amongst small and large organisations.
Here are some strategies to help you rethink how to tackle a brainstorming session in order to generate ideas that are creative, as well as productive. This rethink can include everything from where a brainstorming session takes place, to how we record the ideas that come out of the discussion and how we disseminate that information – the outcome will be more productive and creative staff, and therefore organisations.
The most important way to achieve your desired outcomes is to have a driver of the process. Appointing a ‘chief brainstormer’ will mean that your sessions stay on track and you leave with definite actions you need to solve your problem. While most people think that processes and structure hinder creativity, a small amount of order in a session will mean that those great ideas are turned into productive and tangible actions.
The idea of doing things ‘Anywhere at any time’ has never been more applicable so being properly equipped is critical. Whether it’s downloading an app, recording a conversation or using a cloud solution to make or add notes, it’s vital that you’re equipped to deal with inspiration when the moment hits you – in the airport lounge, in the middle of the night or on the train home.
Making the most of your environment to seek this inspiration should also be high on your list of priorities. We all get so caught up in being ‘busy’ that taking the time out to think and plan with a clear head is often pushed aside in favour of getting something done quickly. Contrary to popular belief, it’s still possible to brainstorm effectively while sitting cross legged on the grass in the park, as long as you can record the ideas as they happen, of course. Go outside, get back to nature to seek inspiration and avoid distractions. Take the mindmap back to the office and jump headfirst into the project.
Another factor to consider is how you’re using the tools you already know and love to supplement the process. Many innovators are also incorporating their existing technology tools, for example, syncing the likes of email, calendars and social media to tap into their plans, even attaching links to YouTube videos, or images for co-workers so they get the visual impact of the idea to restimulate the original inspiration. Rethinking the type of information we can include on the page, how we it share with others, providing alternate ways to engage with the ideas, and turn them into executable actions is revolutionising the way we plan.
UNAIDS recently launched CrowdOutAIDS, an online collaborative project to “crowdsource” its new program to educate young people around the world about HIV/AIDS. To meet this goal, CrowdOutAIDS hosted several forums on social networking sites including Facebook that engaged more than 3,500 participants and allowed them to share their experiences and perspectives on the issues. The group also used additional tools, like an online question-and-answer app, and Google Docs. These enabled the organisation to draft its proposal in the cloud and ensure the team worked towards their goals in an efficient manner while benefiting from the collective brainpower of contributors. Maximising tools to brainstorm and share can achieve important cultural outcomes that transform not only how we work, but how we live.
With the ability to brainstorm via the cloud, on a smartphone, through apps and even desktop solutions, the opportunities are endless, and by using these tools in clever ways we’re giving a new life to ideas that would have stayed on the page or white board and simply been forgotten. People are now being inspired to collaborate, create, think creatively, and brainstorm effectively like never before. More importantly, the effects and outcomes being achieved will have lasting implications personally, professionally and culturally.
Cameron Ackbury is Senior Director, APAC and Japan for mind mapping and collaborative work management solutions provider Mindjet.