Herding the Kittens: 6 Ways to Instill Process into Ideation

When it comes to coming up with the next big idea, many professionals find themselves at an impasse. Whether it’s finding inspiration or knowing where to begin, the ideation process can be a nebulous, complicated mess. Working in teams, both big and small, can further muddle the process as many voices need to be heard and opinions shared. Rather than starting by looking at a blank screen, creatives should try to instill process into their ideation.

In order to create big ideas outside of the “normal” thought process, creatives need to move out of their comfort zones to find new, intriguing points of inspiration. The following are exercises and tips that create tangible deliverables to spark innovation and incite creativity.

1. Think, and then think together: Having time to prepare before meetings is important. Arming employees with knowledge and questions and then giving them time to prepare before big ideation sessions is critical. Allowing preparation time ensures every employee has proper direction before engaging with the team. Brainstorming sessions can be overtaken by a dominant personality so this democratizes the process by allowing everyone a chance to present their ideas to the group. This process allows the team to work on improving current ideas rather than the time-consuming task of generating ideas and then editing.

2. Be present: Face to face interactions are the most effective and efficient method of developing big ideas. When preparing for important meetings, make every effort to ensure that schedules are aligned for in-person meetings. If schedules don’t line up or employees are working remotely, consider leveraging video conferences to add a human feel to the collaboration session. The office is no longer where people work; it’s where we work together—so it’s important to enable personal communication and ideation whenever possible.

3. Get out of your office: Meetings are no longer limited to meeting rooms. Innovative meeting areas, lounge setups, cafeterias, and even outdoor spaces can prompt more creativity. Inviting others to an open common area will get people moving, liven up the dialogue, and make people feel more at ease rather than confined to another stuffy conference room. Getting people out of their seats can breakdown barriers. From having employees take off their shoes to writing on the walls, creativity really begins to flow when people let their guard down.

4. Not too many, not too few: Striking a balance with the right amount of people makes the process work better. Too many people can lead to more people—and emotion—management than productive brainstorming. Too few can lead to less in the way of creativity and not enough points of view. Blending disciplines and levels of experience is also a surefire way to spark creative friction between personalities that view and solve problems differently.

5. Opposites attract: Thinking about things from an opposite point-of-view can lead to interesting ideas. Observe the “accepted” assumptions, write them down, and then invite everyone to brainstorm the opposite. Encourage crazy, outlandish, and extreme ideas. While these may be too far off, they could spur an idea that is new, yet obtainable. Try this: Once the group has agreed on an idea or concept, split the group up and encourage the members to turn that idea on its head. How can we reach the same goal in a completely different way?

6. Move ideas forward: Ideation sessions are great but they need to lead to action to be effective. Set immovable deadlines to help keep teams on track while providing the creative benefits of restraint to ensure that brainstorming meetings are productive. After all, according to Game of Thrones, “words are wind,” so it’s important for leaders to commit to delivering tangible value for their agency through these sessions. Employees will be more motivated and inspired to participate in the future if they see results from their contributions.

Breaking standard thought process can be hard, especially when battling ingrained habits from the traditional thought process. Practice what you preach and get others to help promote your cause. If you’re pushing for more spontaneous and interactive face-to-face meetings, make sure you are leading by example. Sparking up conversations in the kitchen or stopping by a colleague’s desk to discuss ideas will only get others moving around and out of their seats. Get up, move around and begin transforming the way you think.

Keith Potter, LEED AP ID+C, is VP of architecture and design at IdeaPaint.

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