That’s the fun part, right? We all get together in a room, lounge in comfy chairs … maybe Debbie can bring that unbelievable spinach dip of hers. Then someone throws out an idea, and then someone else builds off that and after an hour of idea-throwing, we have … genius!
The reality? It’s pretty darned different. In fact, many people who have sat through a “brainstorming session” will recount the pain of being held captive in a room with ten other people who just gawk at each other as the boss tells them they’re going to play a word-association game.
But here’s the good news: a brainstorming session absolutely can yield breakthrough creativity. But done wrong and it crush your soul like a berries in a smoothie.
Here are some tips to avoid the brain-numbing brainstorming session and reach genius instead:
1.) Get the Hell out of Dodge.
And by dodge, I mean your office. If the weather is nice, go outside. The fresh air keeps folks perky and the passers-by, scenery and background noise all introduce new “data” into your brain.
2.) Go Big Small
There’s a reason that you’re more engaged in a five-person seminar than in a 300-person, auditorium-based lecture. If no one is paying attention to you, it’s easy not to pay attention to the topic.
If someone has to yell to be heard, she is less likely to participate. And boredom is contagious. If one person is zoning out, then daydreaming will pass through the crowd like an infectious yawn.
3.) Eat, Drink & Be Merry ≠ Cookies, Wine & Juggling
One of the most important things to provide in a brainstorming sesh is food and water. Fluid intake actually has strong effects on the brain. When we’re dehydrated, our concentration, productivity and alertness all suffer. Make sure there’s plenty of water that is easily accessed – people aren’t likely to get up to go to the sink and refill their glass.
And NO, Diet Coke doesn’t hydrate you.
We all know it’s impossible to concentrate when you’ve got a hunger headache. But providing the wrong food can sabotage your session. A bunch of cookies, chips or even those seemingly-nutritious bagels are going to spike people’s insulin. Which means they’ll have a rush for about 20 minutes, followed by an hours-long energy crash.
And the same goes for fruit—although it’s healthy—because it’s too high in sugar. So what munchies should you provide? Veggies and dip or hummus is a simple and inexpensive option. “Tea Sandwiches” are great and easy option for people to snarf up discreetly.
Finally, pay attention to presentation: rather than put all the food on one big platter in the center of your group, divide the food into smaller plates. Spread them around the space so people don’t have to travel across the room just to get a nosh.
4.) Make Cell Phones A Centerpiece
No matter how engaging your session, the siren song of the text message notification “bing!” is just too strong for some folks.
You’ve got to be a hard-ass on this one. You know how hard it is to disengage, so you’ve got to nip that in the bud. Tell the participants to power down their smartphones and put them in the center of the table or group.( And be sure that folks turn them off.) There’s nothing more awkward when someone’s phone starts vibrating and everyone looks around the room while you try to pretend you don’t hear anything.
Same thing with laptops – power them down to maximize focus.
5.) P.P.P. – Provide Pen and Paper
It’s inevitable. Someone finally says “Yes, Jen? You wanted to say something?” And that’s when your brilliant idea disappears from your brain as fast as a birthday cake at the office.
By giving people writing materials, you will avoid that “But I need my laptop to take notes!” excuse. (See tip #4)
Brainstorming really should be fun. It’s not only a time where people can talk about those ideas that they didn’t feel were worthy of an email to the CEO, but it’s also an opportunity for people to find out more about the people they work with, but don’t speak to often. Hey, who knew that gal from IT was so funny? And John in marketing plays the accordion? That’s awesome!
Equally important is how brainstorming sessions give you time to connect with everyone in your office. An entrepreneur’s schedule often doesn’t allow for one-on-one time with people on the ground level. So get creative and let your mind go to new places.
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