You hear the words “creativity” and “innovation” all the time—in fact, they hardly mean anything anymore. Everyone is looking for new ideas. A fresh approach. Something “outside the box!” This applies to companies across all industries, not just design firms and ad agencies.
Why? Because leaders know that in today’s world where just about any product or information is just a click away, one of the few opportunities for differentiation lies in the creative ways that these things are brought to life through curation and promotion: how we market and present the products and information. And that’s what you do, right?
But how do you go about it? The standard approach is to schedule a typical brainstorming meeting. Usually these don’t really work, but they can—if you start doing them better.
It takes more than bringing together a wide variety of people to generate good ideas from a wide array of viewpoints. Remember, this isn’t just for the creative team.
And it takes more than simply having whiteboard and stack of Post-It notes and markers (and maybe some snacks and even some of those squishy stress balls), then saying, “Let’s get creative!”
All you’ve really done to this point is set the stage for brainstorming. If you want the meeting to really generate great ideas, here are have a few practices that actually get the creative juices flowing.
- Show us what you mean
It’s one thing to write down an idea in words—and it’s quite another to draw a picture of what you’re talking about. When someone can transform their words into pictures, others can really see what they’re talking about and react to it. And when other people can see themselves or the target audience in a drawing—or features or benefits or results—they can better relate to the merits of the idea.
What’s important here is for people to make their best attempt at visualizing their ideas on paper or a wall so others can gather around. Stick figures and basic shapes are fine! This isn’t an art contest. It’s all about the big idea and the little details and how things fit together. These things need to be seen to be discussed and understood. This is about communication—it’s not an art class. Seriously, no one cares whether you’re any good at drawing or not. Most people aren’t! And this brings us to the next point…
- No judging!
Gordon MacKenzie talks about the effect of teasing in his book Orbiting the Giant Hairball, which chronicles his days in the creative but corporate culture of Hallmark Cards. It turns out that those little asides—digs, zings, criticisms, dismissals—that people toss around in meetings can have a cumulative effect on other people’s confidence. Most people are naturally hesitant to reveal themselves or their ideas to a room of people for fear of being made fun of—even it’s a room full of friendly faces. “Oh come on it’s just a joke!”
MacKenzie believes teasing is a “disguised form of shaming” and that it hinders the creative openness that you’re looking for. Let everyone know how important it is to be positive and supportive.
- Be selfless
Finally, I’m a huge fan of the improvisational comedy made popular by The Second City and The Groundlings. You’re probably thinking, “Whoa—what does improv have to do with business meetings?”
Glad you asked. It’s all about the selfless, collaborative mindset. As Tina Fey points out in her book Bossy Pants, “In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox. This also applies even within your colleagues. If someone comes up with a great new idea or initiative, agree with what they are doing and then add something to it. All great ideas come from collaboration between colleagues.”
So it goes in brainstorming. When people come up with an idea, don’t shut it down. Build on it, twist it around, and see where it can go. Maybe it doesn’t go anywhere—or maybe it’ll be your team’s next great idea. Do what you can to make other people’s ideas look good.
Because, as George Lois said in one of my all-time favorite documentary films Art & Copy,
“I think creativity can solve anything. Anything. ANYTHING.”
See you at Disneyland.
You can catch W. Scott Matthews speaking at this year’s ADMERICA, the AAF’s annual national conference in Anaheim, CA at the Disneyland Resort. Learn more about his session and register for ADMERICA here.
W. Scott Matthews, Tremendousness
Scott Matthews is a Co-founder and Creative Director at Tremendousness—a design agency that specializes in complex, visual storytelling for clients such as Adobe, Deloitte, TED, Cisco and AARP. Read More.