I was recently asked to do a short presentation for Gatwick Diamond Business to get people thinking and promote discussion for a networking meeting. I talked about how you can engage the creativity of all your team and, particularly, how you can make brainstorms work.

The feedback was very positive, so I thought I would share my thoughts here.

Creating an ideas culture

First of all, creativity is not limited to designers, artists or musicians. Creativity is about coming up with new ideas, ways to do things better, solutions to problems that seemed insurmountable.

Everyone in your teams will have something to contribute and by getting everyone involved, you not only boost motivation, you also get access to the ideas and solutions of people who really know how your business works. Even the most junior member of the team will have something to contribute – especially a fresh way of thinking, untarnished by years of conformity to business norms!

It is important to create a culture within the business that is open to ideas, demonstrating that you welcome ideas and feedback and are not simply paying lip service. Don’t judge or dismiss ideas out of hand – give them the courtesy of evaluation. Sometimes even the wackiest of ideas can have a nugget of gold at its heart which, with slightly different application, can prove invaluable.

Giving feedback is also essential to let people know what has been done with their idea – if you can involve them in the implementation, even better. If you didn’t go ahead, let them know why it wasn’t possible or practical, so people feel you have given it due consideration.

Finally, look to introduce tools to boost creativity. Perhaps include regular brainstorming sessions in meetings, teach your teams how to use mind maps and create places to log ideas. In the old days, this would be the suggestion box, but channels such as Slack and Zoho Cliq are a great way to encourage collaboration and sharing. We have a Show and Tell channel in our Cliq which is always being added to.

Brainstorming

Let’s take a closer look at brainstorming, which can be a very powerful way to generate ideas if run correctly. They can be used for many different outcomes, including to prepare pitch or tender responses for new business, develop new products or services, continuous improvement and operational efficiency, to mention just a few.

Here are my eight golden rules for brainstorming:

1. Involve a wider pool of people

Get a wider team involved, including people not closely linked with the topic you are discussing. They will bring a fresh perspective

2. Give people time to generate ideas in advance

Give them the brief and the documentation, so they can come to the meeting with some initial ideas. Not everyone is good at coming up with something on the hoof and this will make it easier for more introverted team members to get involved.

3. Appoint a facilitator

A good facilitator will keep the discussion on track and will engage everyone, especially the quiet ones. They can capture the ideas and make sure that the group does not become fixed on one solution to the exclusion of others.

I would recommend that the facilitator is NOT the most senior person in the room. In my experience, directors running a brainstorm tend to either dominate or be deferred to, both of which will stifle creativity.

4. NO idea is stupid or wrong

In a brainstorm, there must be no filtering of ideas or placing of restrictions. Every idea is to be welcomed and added to the list. As I mentioned earlier, some wacky ideas contain the germ of the perfect solution.

5. Build on ideas

A good facilitator will help the team to build on ideas and draw the thinking further, by asking the question “and …” not “but”.

6. Quantity over quality

The brainstorm is about generating lots of ideas – the more the merrier. If you only have a couple, it is likely that the team has started the refining phase too early.

7. Refining and detail is the next phase

The brainstorm is all about generating ideas, not restricting or shutting things down. The evaluation and refining of those ideas is the next stage in the process and should be undertaken at a separate meeting.

8. Have fun

Make the process enjoyable, lively and fun to be part of. This will really help boost creative thinking.

I hope you find this useful and that you can encourage more creativity within your organisation.