If the term brainstorming makes you want to run and hide your non-creative head under your desk, you are not alone. All too often creative thinking tasks are delegated to a small group of “creative” people and the majority of us rarely explore our own creative problem solving abilities.
Why should all employees be able to think creatively?
If only one or two of your employees are challenged to think innovatively, your business will miss out on a number of opportunities for growth and improvement. If all employees feel empowered to be creative problem solvers, good things will happen.
In addition, different people with different roles will offer different perspectives on a problem. Your receptionist might have the solution to the problem because she is most familiar with the types of issues customers have.
So, that all sounds good on paper, but HOW do you encourage creative thinking?
The secret to creative thinking
How is it that the “creative ones” harness such great ideas? Is it talent? Wild luck? Or something else?
Really, there is no secret.
Creativity is simply a way thinking—a skill—that can be developed. And, the good news—it can be developed in ANYONE!
Creative Brainstorming Techniques
We are going to share 2 of our favorite brainstorming techniques that you can use with a group or individually.
But first, a couple rules to remember:
1. Embrace “what if”
All too often, we are afraid something sounds silly or far-fetched so we keep our mouths shut. I’ve worked in advertising for over a decade and without a doubt, most of our awesome, award-winning ideas started with someone saying “I don’t know if this would ever fly, but what if….”. So, be brave and turn your inner filter off. There is no bad idea at this stage.
“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” – Albert Einstein
2. Utilize proven techniques
Staring at a blank sheet of paper hoping ideas will magically appear is a sure fire way to not come up with any ideas. Instead, try using structured techniques aimed at creating new thought patterns. (We have 2 techniques below, but there are MANY others)
3. Keep Going
When you hit a blank, don’t stop.
Often our best ideas come after we think we have run out of them.
Technique #1 – 100 mph Thinking
This idea comes from The Do It Yourself Lobotomy: Open Your Mind to Greater Creative Thinking by Tom Monahan
Supplies needed: markers + paper
The goal of this activity is to think of as many ideas as possible in 1 minute. Quantity over quality.
To get yourself or your team warmed up, pick a question unrelated to your industry as a practice. For example:
“How can you make a sandwich without bread?”
Think of as many possible solutions (wraps, pancakes, pizza, lettuce, waffles, ice cream cones, lunch meat wraps, etc)
Encourage the team to think far fetched by occasionally throwing out “silly” ideas.
At the end of the minute, ask if there were any fun or surprising ideas that were mentioned. Discuss for a minute. I also like to show this example from KFC – a few years ago they created the “Double Down” sandwich, which was bacon and cheese sandwiched between 2 chicken breasts. Just one way a company embraced what probably sounded like a crazy idea at first.
Now you are warmed up and ready to tackle actual questions or issues your company is facing. Ask specific questions that don’t require long, drawn out answers since the goal of this exercise is speed.
Sample questions you might ask:
- What words might our customers use to describe our company?
- What are new ways product _______ could be used?
- What words come to mind when we think about our target audience?
- What new services could we offer?
- Name some people / companies we should pursue as clients?
Technique #2 – Intergalactic Thinking
This idea comes also from The Do It Yourself Lobotomy: Open Your Mind to Greater Creative Thinking by Tom Monahan
Supplies needed: markers + paper
This exercise helps us escape from industry constraints and experiences. Let’s say you own an accounting firm. It’s hard to think innovatively about it because you are so familiar with similar businesses and what has worked in the past.
To get new ideas flowing, we would imagine your accounting firm is a different type of business and explore that through discussion. For example:
If our business was a coffee shop…
- What type of clients would stop in?
- What would your menu look like?
- What price range would your menu fall in?
- How would the shop be decorated?
After some good discussion, try to apply some of the interesting ideas back to your accounting firm. Instead of having desks and cubicles, is your office set up like a coffee shop for a more relaxing feel? Or, do you offer a “menu” of services making it easy for customers to pick and choose what they need?
Do this exercise a couple times with a few different scenarios.
If our accounting firm was a spa…
- What type of clients would you cater to?
- What services would you offer?
You might find interesting links (for example – do your clients tend to be stressed about finances? Is there a way you can make their experience relaxing?)
Here are a few other great resources on effective brainstorming techniques.
Give these techniques a try either by yourself or with your team and let us know what you think.
“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson