Over the years, I’ve come to terms with something: I don’t always have the best idea in the room.
On the other hand, I’ve developed a keen ability to identify what ideas will actually work and how to put them into action.
As CMO, I maintain ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of my team’s efforts, but I find the creative process works best when I take a few steps back and encourage the talent around me to flourish.
What’s more, I’ve often found that some of the freshest and most effective ideas come from individuals who might not have the title or experience you’d expect–which is why leaders should make it a priority to develop a culture of creative democracy in their organization.
In particular, here are five steps that will help your team achieve and maintain an environment that keeps ideas coming:
The key to a good brainstorm is to have everyone come up with his or her own ideas before ever sitting down at the roundtable. Individual thought processes allow people more room to let their ideas flow and become more concrete.
This approach both saves everyone a lot of time and helps spur inspiration as people share and build on each other’s ideas. Something as simple as a funny video, interesting advertisement or compelling article, can help get a discussion started.
The frequency of these meetings is important as well, to help maintain an atmosphere of free-flowing thought and creativity.
Sometimes a hurdle to jump over is just what people need to summon a little motivation. The right challenge can free people from their comfort zones and push them to think differently than they’re used to.
Several years ago at one of my company’s marketing meetings, guest speaker and HubSpot CMO Mike Volpe told us about an out-of-the-box strategy in which he would hire brand new college graduates, give them a camera, and ask them to create their own video channels. The ingenuity that ensued ended up being some of the most effective content HubSpot ever produced. Not only was his challenge a nice break from the daily grind, it also helped his team come up with ideas they might never have thought of otherwise.
You never know who is going to spark or suggest an amazing idea, and you might even be surprised. Younger or less experienced employees can dream up fantastic ideas that still tie perfectly into company goals. For instance Domo’s first giant tradeshow strategy came from our most junior team member. People with different backgrounds or who wouldn’t typically describe themselves as “creatives” can also offer unique perspectives.
In other words, don’t be overly selective with who you bring to the table. Extend your reach, and keep in mind that seniority or knowledge level shouldn’t matter–only the integrity of the idea.
One of the most glaring issues with brainstorming is that people often feel uncomfortable sharing their ideas. Young people in particular can wind up in this category. It might be a good idea to occasionally take senior employees or more dominant personalities out of the room to help other team members feel more inclined to speak up.
Time management is also an important yet neglected factor of brainstorming. To help everyone have a chance to add their two cents, perform activities that involve both individual and group thinking. One of my favorites is “speed ad copy,” in which everyone is given 10 pieces of paper and 10 minutes to create ad material for a specific topic. Then present everyone’s concepts in less than 10 minutes. It’s such a simple activity, but one that can make a notable impact on the meeting’s efficiency and effectiveness.
You know the type. There will always be a personality or two in every group that attempts to dominate the team dynamic instead of build on it. Don’t be afraid to silence people who force their ideas on others, refuse to hear people out, or treat others with disrespect. A simple reprimand might be appropriate and do the trick, but you might find it necessary to remove such individuals from the creative process if they incur a negative impact on the democracy at work.
Most importantly, always lead by example. If you can be the leader who listens to everyone, encourages collaboration and treats all contributions equally, the rest of your team will follow suit.
By establishing a few key guidelines that allow creative culture to grow and thrive, companies will be better equipped to solve problems faster and better than ever before. At the same time, employees will feel more valued, and part of something bigger than just the work they do at their desk, by adding their own creative stamp to the company’s legacy.
—Heather Zynczak is the CMO of Domo. Heather has focused her 20-year career on bringing value to business through technology. She has held executive marketing and product management positions at some of the world’s largest enterprise technology companies, spending the last six years at SAP, where she most recently served as global vice president of marketing.