The simplest definition of something creative is that it is both NOVEL and USEFUL.  Makes sense, right?

How do you go about being creative and what is the right approach to brainstorming for ideas?  Some research that has been conducted recently has pointed toward some surprising suggestions about what most of us think is the best approach.

It seems that when you get everyone into a room and start spitting out ideas, the quality of that thinking can suffer from a similar effect we find in focus groups.  We stay within the lines as we tend toward harmonizing not really stretching beyond (or outside of) the box.

An alternative approach to a brainstorming session is a slight variation on the process that can have better outcomes.

Mixing it up
MIX IT UP: If you are looking to solve a marketing problem, then you bring together marketing team members. Right? Nope- wrong.  You need some outsiders in the mix.  So broaden the group to work on the effort including engineers, finance and others who see the business world from a different perspective.

Define the issue clearly at the first team meeting. Don’t bring the post it notes and white boards.  Just get clarity about what problem you are trying to solve NOT how to solve it. Stay at the strategic level. Don’t allow that first meeting to get to solutions; stay focused on the problem.

Brainstorm alone
INDIVIDUAL IDEATION:  Ask each member to come to the next meeting with a list of solutions that they create on their own. Individuals tend to be more willing to break out of the box more if they are allowed the freedom to work privately at first without an urge to blend into the common thinking.

Rank the ideas
RANK THE IDEAS:  Let each individual present their ideas to the group and have everyone pick their 3 favorite solutions.  Don’t try and build on the ideas yet, just try to find what concepts emerge as most promising.

Focus on the top ideas 
FOCUS ON THE TOP IDEAS: Finally, assemble the team together and build on these top ideas. Concentrate on brainstorming within these thoughts and see how you can build, expand or extend the ideas. Discuss and challenge the practical side of execution of the ideas as well as the costs, time lines and other parameters.  Talk this out but don’t decide at this meeting what direction to take just yet.

In summary...
SUMMARIZE THE CONVERSATIONS:  Have someone scribe so that you have a clear and well-written outline of each idea, the pros and cons and how it fits with the problem at hand.  Make sure the team agrees with the spirit of what has been written and that it represents the conversations that took place.

Vote in private
VOTE PRIVATELY: Ask each team member to pick the number one idea that they would invest their time and money against. Do this via email or some online voting mechanism so that no one has to explain themselves in public but can do it privately.

If this is a very important issue you are wrestling with, you might take your recommendation up one level and present all three concepts to your boss or a few at a more senior level. Explain the problem you are trying to solve, explain the three top solutions and provide your recommendation of how you plan to proceed.   Get buy-in from your boss and don’t ask them to make a decision, but ask them to weigh in on the recommendation.  Is the solution both novel and useful?

This is still brainstorming but it acknowledges that some colleagues work better privately and feel more willing to push the envelope when it is anonymous or not in a group setting. The quality of the ideas that come to the table may be more disruptive. This is a good thing.  Don’t settle for the obvious solution but use the richness of how others think and solve problems to get you to a truly creative approach.

I think this is a novel and useful approach. Agree?

Note: Do you know some other creative marketing folks who might enjoy these conversations? Please share my blog with one friend. Thanks. 

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