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How to hold meetings that spark innovative ideas

Don’t wait until the “perfect” time to have it.

How to hold meetings that spark innovative ideas
[Photo: Rawpixel/iStock]

As a founder or CEO, you’ll face a lot of pressure to have all the answers. Your team looks to you for inspiration, and they also expect you to have a clear vision of where the company is going.

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But you won’t always generate your best ideas alone. Sometimes, your team members might think of initiatives that you would have never come up with.

For this reason, strategy meetings and brainstorming sessions are a great way to spark new ideas. But you can’t rely on an archaic model when you hold these kinds of meetings, so think about following these steps so that your session will be a success.

Set the date today

Some people might say that you need to have an ideal work culture to have innovation, and you can’t manifest creativity when you have stress and fear.

But innovation tends to come through when there is tension. When you face a challenging situation, you might be forced to look for solutions in unexpected places. Don’t wait until you have the “perfect” environment. Have this meeting as you continue to make improvements on that front.

Consider the scale of impact

When you’re truly trying to innovate, you have to take a bird’s eye view. Who do you want to reach? How many lives do you want to touch? 100? 1,000? 1 million? 1 billion? You’ll need to design a different approach, depending on who you want to reach.

Choose your attendees carefully

You may be tempted to invite your creative team or only the most “brilliant” employees in the company. But great ideas come from different perspectives, outlook, thinking, and experiences. Make sure you have a good mix of attendees from all levels of the organization, and cap the numbers at 25.

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Be clear about why you’re holding the meeting

When you do make the invitation, begin with the end in mind. Be sure to acknowledge any storm clouds–such as tension, stress, and downturns. You also need to tell your attendees why you’re having this meeting, whether it’s overcoming a specific challenge or coming up with ways to increase revenue.

I suggest that you shouldn’t tell them to prepare, but that they should expect to come to the meeting with an open mind and step outside their comfort zone during the session.

Choose the facilitator

Make sure that you choose the person who will run the meeting. The facilitator shouldn’t generate any ideas, but instead, they will be in charge of encouraging participation and enforcing the rules of engagement (more on that below).

You need someone who is well respected, diplomatic, and doesn’t play favorites. When necessary, they need to be able to direct people away from tangents. If there is no one inside your company that meets these criteria, consider hiring an external facilitator.

Establish rules of engagement

At the beginning of the meeting, remind people of the objective of the meeting. I also recommend that you set one rule. Tell everyone that they’re not allowed to figure out why something cannot be done, but instead how it can be done.

Stay optimistic

As the leader of the company, your job is to be an optimist. If anyone in the room objects to a goal or thinks that it is crazy, then find a way to get them to admit that if they could achieve the goal, would they want to?

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Bob Proctor, in his book, You Were Born to Be Rich, spoke of a meeting where participants came up with breakthrough ideas to raise $3 million in three days for a town that was devastated by a natural disaster. During the meeting, if anyone said that something couldn’t be done, everyone in the meeting was given permission to yell out “Next!” and they would immediately shift to the next idea.

They reasoned that ideas are like the cars on a train, and they kept saying “Next” to negative ideas until a positive one came. He writes, “It was important for those present to openly admit that [the fundraising] was something that they wanted to do,” rather than judge whether it was something they should, or could do.

Be comfortable with silence

Sometimes, no one will speak up with an idea. Be comfortable with that. Silence creates tension for people, and that’s a good thing.

Eventually, someone will break the silence and blurt out an idea that they were afraid was bad or stupid. Often those ideas can be the best. At the very least, it can set the bar low enough so everyone feels comfortable to share their seemingly crazy ideas too. Remember, you probably won’t get fully formed ideas from these meetings, and you shouldn’t expect to.

Accept that innovation is a messy process

When you innovate, you’re doing things in a whole new way. Things will often feel messy, out of control, or like everything is all up in the air. Just remember, any great innovation requires you to step outside the old way of doing things and take a leap into the unknown.

At the end of the day, you have to be willing to take risks to be successful in business, and this means trying something, regardless of the outcome. Yes, that might mean coming face to face with failure. But know that every failure brings valuable lessons. The only way to innovate is to try something new, over and over again.

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Christie Turley is a sought-after expert, speaker, and consultant who has sparked innovation in thousands of businesses and sold over $1 billion in products and services.

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