Brainstorming sessions are a waste of time
A group of 5 business people in a room. Their monthly one-hour get-together, brainstorming ideas for some new products. James is Mr. Creativity, the most vociferous person in the group. The post-it note king. He gets the meeting going with an early blitz of random ideas and the wall is soon covered with a cacophony of colour. Amanda is intuitive and introverted, not creative in her own view. Matthew, the senior member in the team, always has his eye on the clock, always evaluating what is possible, not possible.
As quickly as James plants the post-its, Matthew finds holes and peels them off. Lucy, the trainee, looks on bemused. Tony, the team’s anchor man with the strongest human empathy gene looks increasingly frustrated.
One hour and plenty of debate and discussion later, 4 sad looking post-it notes are left on the wall. Nothing gets actioned as nothing was accomplished. A combined 5 hours of wasted time. Everybody goes back to their proper jobs!
What can we learn from football?!
The way that we should apply creativity is the way most good teams play sport. Take football for example. You have the attackers, midfielders, defenders and each of them develop specialist skills in their areas. However, every team needs to decide which mode they are in. If they are in attacking mode, then everyone has to be of the same mind set, and even though the attackers retain the primary responsibility for scoring goals, everybody has a role in helping them do that. If the team are in defensive mode, it is the defenders who do the bulk of the defending but the midfielders drop deep and the attackers track back. Attack as a team, defend as a team. Imagine the chaos if all 11 players had no idea whether they were attacking or defending!
Applying the principles of “attacking and defending” to creativity
Back to the brainstorming session. In advance of the meeting, Matthew has carefully selected the challenge that they will be working on. The first part of the meeting is spent in stimulator mode. Plenty of free-flowing thoughts, and even though James owns most of the air time, everybody chips in. Twenty minutes in, Tony, who with his strong supporter style is facilitating the meeting, encourages everyone to switch to spotter mode. This involves surveying the wall of random post-its and connecting thoughts and half-thoughts to develop the bones of BIG IDEAS. This is Amanda’s time to shine, and her innate ability to find needles in haystacks becomes evident. Everyone gives her time and space to articulate her initial thoughts, building rather than burying.
Three or four BIGGISH IDEAS later, it’s time for some careful sculpting, articulating the ideas clearly for internal and external consumption. Lucy, an English graduate and the most junior person there, is best placed to do this. She only needs 15 minutes of quiet time to produce three well expressed concept statements. The final 10 minutes is spent screening and selecting. Matthew, playing to his strengths, leads this stage with everyone’s input, before agreeing next steps.
Unlock the creative potential of EVERY person in the room
Stimulating. Spotting. Sculpting. Selecting. Supporting. Each mode has a critical role within the overall creative process, and it is important for everyone to know which mode is required when and understand who is good at doing what. It might seem like a contradiction in terms but this can make the creative process more effective, efficient and anything but a waste of time!