Creativity is an underrated skill in the world of entrepreneurship, in part because it’s hard to exercise deliberately. We think of the biggest breakthrough ideas as being the byproduct of a coincidental flash of inspiration — not the final product of a focused creative brainstorming session.
There’s an important takeaway from this idea. You can’t force creativity—at least not directly, and not in the same way you can force a nail into a piece of plywood. However, you can create environments and circumstances that greatly improve your ability to be creative—and can potentially improve the final ideas that result from your exercises.
Why Creative Brainstorming is so Important
Creative brainstorming is important for startup founders to master because it has the potential to affect your business in so many ways.
Through creative brainstorming, you can come up with:
- A better business name. One of the first things you’ll decide in a startup is the name and overall direction of the business. You need something compelling, exciting, and original if you want to choose the perfect domain name and create a brand that people remember.
- Innovative product ideas. Creative brainstorming is a great way to develop ideas for new products—or ways to improve your existing line.
- Original marketing ideas. The best marketing campaigns are ones that stand out from the crowd. But how can you come up with something truly original? Creative brainstorming can help.
- Solutions for complex problems. Your business will face a litany of tough problems to solve, and not all of them can be solved in straightforward ways. You’ll need creative ideas and novel angles of attack to be successful.
In each of these areas, brainstorming allows you to see past the obvious. It gives you a chance to come up with something original, which no other brand has done before. It also gives you a chance to see the flaws and weaknesses in the early ideas you generate, which you can use to polish those nuggets to perfection.
On top of that, if you creatively brainstorm with a team, this is a valuable opportunity to build team bonds. You’ll have multiple team members working together to solve a single problem. They’ll be hearing each other’s perspectives, ideas, and insights and collaborating for a common cause. Ultimately, this can make your team stronger—as long as you do it right.
So what’s the “right” way to creatively brainstorm?
Pick the Right Team
First, you need to pick the right team. Including several people in a brainstorming session is usually a good idea because it allows you to capitalize on different minds. Different people typically have different backgrounds, different specialties, different opinions, and different perspectives. When these come together, they can result in much more original ideas being created.
At the same time, you don’t want your group to be too big; if you have too many people in a room, it will be hard to focus on one voice at a time. It also tends to waste time.
It’s not just about numbers; however, you also need to pick people who are most likely to contribute positively to the problem at hand. Are these team members well-versed in this issue? Do they have the skills or experience to be meaningful contributors?
Choose the Right Medium and Setting
For most teams, the ideal setting for a creative brainstorming session is a traditional meeting room. You should be able to see each other’s faces and engage in person, and you should have access to tools like whiteboards and shared screens to articulate your ideas better.
Of course, this isn’t always possible. If you’re working with a remote team, or if you can’t meet in person, make sure you’re using a mode of communication that allows all people to contribute equally. You want each person to be able to express themselves in a variety of different ways.
Do Your Research in Advance
Don’t introduce the problem at the creative brainstorming meeting. Instead, introduce it well in advance of the meeting. This will allow your team members to do their own research, independently, long before they get together.
Each person will come to the meeting with all the background information they need to discuss the issue and may already have some ideas to bring up. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting the first half of the meeting getting people up to speed.
Practice a Blend of Different Techniques
There are many different individual techniques designed to help people come up with more creative ideas. For example, you might practice word association. You could use an idea web to connect concepts together in novel ways.
You could pull random words or ideas out of a hat and try to work with them. You could even use an AI-powered idea generator to help spark inspiration.
None of these techniques are strictly better than the others. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and may be better suited for some creative brainstorming sessions than others. Try experimenting with a variety of different techniques to get the most out of all of them.
Get External Inspiration
Too many teams get stuck in a rut. They get contributions from the same people. They fall victim to the same patterns of thinking. And ultimately, they come up with the same types of ideas.
If you want to push to the next plateau of creativity, you need external inspiration. That could mean talking to other people, reading new books, or even engaging with different types of art for new inspiration.
Allow Boredom and Silence
We tend to come up with our best ideas in near-silence, or when we’re bored. When you’re trying to force an idea, or when you’re thinking hard in a distracting environment, your mind is too active to make new connections.
But when you take a moment away from the problem, those novel connections can develop; this is why people stereotypically come up with ingenious ideas in the shower. Give yourself and your team more boredom, more silence, and more space to develop new ideas.
Embrace and Challenge All Ideas
It’s important to both embrace and challenge all ideas brought up by your team. Embracing ideas is all about encouraging contributions and giving each idea the time and consideration to reach its full potential.
Thank team members for coming up with new ideas, and don’t dismiss anything immediately. Spend time seriously considering each contribution and making team members feel good about contributing.
Once the idea has been carefully considered, make sure you challenge it. What are the weaknesses? How could this idea fail? How does it stack up to other ideas? This will help you retain a critical eye.
You’ll view ideas more objectively if you revisit them after some time has passed. Whenever you come up with a new idea as a team, spend a day away from it (when possible), and revisit the idea together. Chances are, several people will have new perspectives on the idea—or new ways to expand upon it.
Collect Feedback and Improve
Finally, make an effort to collect feedback from your team about how your creative brainstorming sessions have gone in the past. Do they think these sessions are productive? Do they feel like their ideas were heard?
Are there techniques they think would be better to try? Incorporate these pieces of feedback into your future brainstorming sessions and keep improving.
With better creative brainstorming tactics in place, your organization will almost immediately grow stronger. You’ll have access to smarter, more original ideas, you’ll come up with more ingenious solutions to the problems you’ll face in the future, and your team will be much closer and more collaborative.
You may not be able to build the perfect think tank overnight, but with focused effort, it’s a possibility for any startup.
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