What’s your gut reaction when you receive a calendar invite titled “brainstorm?” For most people, seeing this word may stir up feelings of dread. We’ve been to countless brainstorms that didn’t end up fruitful, so we’re conditioned to believe a brainstorm will end without tangible results.
Like building a house, a good brainstorm requires a solid foundation to be successful.
During my tenure as head of creativity and innovation at Disney, I conducted countless brainstorms. As a result, I developed a series of tools that I now use working with my clients to ensure every brainstorming session I facilitate ends with a handful of truly innovative ideas, which are achievable and your team can eventually execute.
1. Set the tone with signaling
Your behavior signals to others how to behave in response. Consider the term “brainstorm.” For most, this conjures up the thought of unproductive and unstructured meetings, with a few concepts scribbled on a whiteboard. It doesn’t signal the right state of mind, meaning you’re unlikely to get the best ideas out of your team.
So, stop calling it a brainstorm, thereby signaling a different mindset. By changing the name of your brainstorm, you can drastically alter your attendees’ states of mind before you even begin. I ran with this concept while at Disney, where I developed the “ID8” (or “ideate”) room, which later became the name of my company. Everyone stepping foot into the ID8 room knew that they were attending an “expansionist” session, which meant that the meeting was meant to generate and grow ideas.
A similar practice: Pixar regularly holds its “plussing” meetings where contributors must “plus” each idea, or add an element to help it expand and improve from the original brainstormed concept.
2. Nurture great ideas with the power of “Yes, and . . .”
“No, because . . .” is a conditioned response we all have. It takes big ideas and makes them smaller and smaller, eventually rendering them obsolete.
But turn it around to “yes” and you might get somewhere. By responding to ideas with such an open-minded manner, you show you are listening and prevent collaborative meetings from completely coming to a halt, from lack of momentum.
3. Include a “naive expert” from outside your team
When I was leading brainstorms for restaurant architecture ideas at Shanghai’s Disneyland, I needed a way to motivate my team of Disney Imagineers—who were primarily males over the age of 50 then—to start thinking differently. So, I invited a young Chinese female chef to participate in a session as our “naive expert,” or in other words, an outside individual whose criteria for success were not tied to our team.
A “naive expert” has no skin in the game and no previous working knowledge of your department, making them more likely to raise questions and ideas that those on your team had never considered.
4. Optimize your virtual brainstorm
In today’s uncertain climate, we won’t be coming together for in-person gatherings and brainstorms anytime soon. Regardless, that doesn’t mean you can’t still host a productive session.
To generate novel ideas, work to create a team-wide digital environment that encourages active participation, engagement, and collaboration.
Duncan Wardle launched his creative consulting company iD8 & innov8 to help companies embed a culture of innovation and creativity across their entire organization. He was previously the vice president of innovation and creation at The Walt Disney Company.