How I Brainstorm

When I was a kid, I would spend hours upon hours drawing. For a while, I was convinced I’d grow up to be a Disney animator. Pictionary and Win, Lose, or Draw were staples of my childhood. And if you were to ever take a look at my school notebooks, you’d see more doodles than notes. I guess it was obvious, even from an early age, that I was a visual thinker.

Fast forward 25 years and nothing has really changed. Sure, I didn’t become an artist (I became a marketer by way of sales), but visual thinking still rules my way of problem solving and developing new ideas.

As a manager, I look to impart many of the things I’ve learned in my career to my team. But, more importantly, I look to foster an environment where my team can learn new things for themselves (and teach me). I try to plant seeds, but I lean on them to water them and make them grow. Whether this is the right way to manage? Who knows, but things have gone well in my career so far and I don’t think anyone who’s ever worked for me has hated it.

For my team, ideation and innovation is paramount. It’s the one place where I’m quite demanding. If you’re on my team, I’m going to push you to come up with fresh (and fleshed-out) ideas. But how do we get the ball moving?

Brainstorming.

My method of brainstorming isn’t revolutionary, but it’s also a little different than what I used to think brainstorming was. For one, I never schedule a “brainstorming” session without giving ample notice. There’s nothing worse than being asked for ideas right on the spot. For some people that might not be a big deal, but others it’s a nightmare. Putting someone on the spot will usually lead to a pretty crappy idea.

To maximize productivity, I give my team fair warning days in advance. I expect them to give serious thought over a few days and bring ideas that have a even the shortest leg to stand on to our session.

Then, instead of having one person act as secretary, writing the ideas down on a whiteboard as their thrown out by the team, I start by asking one person to draw their idea. Yes…draw*.

For whatever reason, I’ve found that drawing out ideas allows everyone to start approaching the idea a little differently and it allows iteration to take place much more quickly. Participation from the team also increases and focus on the “idea” is typically deep. Once we feel we have enough of the idea drawn out, the doodler gets to choose the next person who will draw their idea.

What I’ve seen in my experience is round after round of doodles and ideas that get nurtured in real-time by nearly everyone on the team. Not every idea will be a good one, but we typically always leave with a bunch of really good ones. And even better, our sessions are truly a team effort (and even fun sometimes).

How do you help foster creativity and ideation?

*typically stick figures. Very seldom Mona Lisas.

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