Brainstorming at work? Here’s how to unleash creativity during ideation
Stumped? Sometimes when co-workers gather round Ye Olde Conference Table, the creative ideas do not flow freely. Sure, even the most talented won’t be “on” every time you brainstorm. But there really are ways to boost creativity during ideation, helping you move from that initial excitement of a new concept into actual ways to implement it. First, though, you may need a general idea of what’s involved. The Interaction Design Foundation has this working definition: “Ideation is the process where you generate ideas and solutions through sessions such as Sketching, Prototyping, Brainstorming, Brainwriting, Worst Possible Idea, and a wealth of other ideation techniques.”
Naturally, any work approach with that many moving parts requires some preplanning. But when the reward is a free flow of ideas, you have plenty of motivation to try these five ways to unleash some mad creativity during the next ideation session:
1. Have a point person
This may seem obvious, or it may seem restrictive. But the irony is, creativity doesn’t happen on its own. You need one person either per session or per team whose role is to invite the participants, encourage the free flow of ideas and ask questions. That doesn’t mean the ideation leader can’t jump in with suggestions, too, but their main objective is to draw creativity from the group. And here’s another radical concept that encourages creativity: Don’t necessarily choose the highest-ranking employee or even an employee at all to get the ideation kicked into gear. Sometimes a lower-ranking employee with the gift for facilitating or an outside consultant or even someone from another department can keep the process in gear better than “the boss.”
2. Don’t pause to apply logic
At the start, you’re going for a volume of ideas, not necessarily quality. So let people add the very first things that come to mind and note them all, coming back to evaluate and yes, judge, a bit later. If you slow down to say “Ooh, not that!” and “Seriously, Karen?” you’ll halt the creative problem-solving process in its tracks
3. Keep the session under control
It’s weird to involve restrictions in order to tap into creativity during ideation, but you really need them. So make sure you don’t start ideation without determining a time limit beforehand. Instead of blocking creativity, the “time’s up after 30 minutes” approach will give you and your fellow brainstormers a reason to swing into action.
Also, enter the session with an idea of the problem you intend to solve. Creativity is not synonymous with people throwing out every single thought that crosses their minds. If the topic is “our ideas for a better water filtration system,” you don’t want someone starting right out with the pretty unhelpful, “What I think of that new Thai restaurant.” You do want the offbeat and random thoughts people come up with, only the ones that are prompted by your introducing the shared problem to solve.
4. Consider what’s being done and then suggest amendments
It’s always easiest to chime in with additional ideas once someone else has gotten the ball rolling. So during the ideation process, encourage creativity by taking an existing concept or product, yours or a competitor’s, and adding to it. Use action verbs to generate the most energy and creativity. Start sentences with phrases like, “We could take that and then tweak…” or “Let’s start with their improvement and exchange…” and then ask the contributors to finish them. They can call out answers or submit them in writing, whatever the moderator is most comfortable with.
5. Take it outside
This is so 7th-grade science class at the end of the school year, but it works! Just being outdoors can really boost your brain power, according to a University of Melbourne study. “Modern work drains attention throughout the day, so providing boosted ‘green micro-breaks’ may provide mental top-ups to offset declining attention,” Kate Lee, the lead author told The Washington Post.