It is easy to forget that creativity or innovation doesn’t "just happen". Even if you work in a "creative" team … there is no guarantee that creativity will occur — you need to find ways to boost the chances of your work being viewed as innovative.
Sometimes it takes coffee (in my case, plenty of it), at other times sugar. But in almost all instances, creativity and innovation take TIME and (horror of all horrors) planning.
Brainstorming is often seen as an end in itself, rather than a small step in a creative process. And while brainstorming can help bring out or enhance ideas, the breakthroughs that we look for often occur in isolation, appear unexpectedly and sometimes take extra time and effort to connect with your own thoughts and those of your team. Hmmm … starting to sound strange — what am I talking about?
The secret to creativity is preparation. And creative preparation is focused as well as undisciplined (or chaotic). You need to immerse yourself in the world, its ideas, images and trends, but you also need to stand apart. You need to LISTEN to the breathing of the world, get inside the skin of others and look with the eyes of a stranger at the life you live everyday. In short, the best preparation for creativity is LIFE (but from the outside-in). [Actually I don’t know if I really agree with this, but I am going with it.]
You also need inspiration. Not an idea … but breath. Your ideas need to live, they need to take a breath and come to life. So, when you get a brief or a request, take a pad and write down the first thing that comes to mind. Draw a picture if that is what works. Just make sure you do it straight away. Once you have your small piece of inspiration, secret it away somewhere (you will come back to it later).
Now you need to research and think … and you also need to continue to work on your OTHER projects. One of the important parts of brainstorming is deep, unconscious processing — you need to let your brain work through the tricks, memories, techniques, stories, images and anecdotes that you have been storing away throughout your life. This is hard work and really cannot be done consciously. If you try to force it, the result won’t ring true.
Then immediately before your brainstorming, pull together some thoughts, write them up in a form that makes sense to you, grab a coffee and head into the meeting.
In the storm
There are lots of tips and tricks to brainstorming, all written by people with more authority and expertise than I. The one thing that is always important to remember is that NO IDEA IS IRRELEVANT. It is easy to forget about the STORM part and focus on the BRAIN — the last thing that you want in a brainstorming meeting is censure. You don’t want self-censure and you don’t want peer or group censure.
Remember to speak up, and speak up early. The earlier you speak up and contribute to a session, the easier it becomes. Put your ideas up on the board. Let others listen to them and add or change them. DON’T BE PRECIOUS.
Categorise and review the information that comes out in your brainstorm. Find the common threads and bring the ideas together … prioritise them in some way and find ways of linking categories — whether as a pictogram or as a word theme/meme.
Now, remember to write it all down. Make a summary of your notes, thoughts and feelings. Share them with the other participants … and determine the NEXT STEPS … and responsibilities. Don’t let the good ideas go to waste — ensure that you are all clear about what happens next, who is going to do it, and when it is due.
Finally, take the ideas that don’t fit, or are not prioritised, and write them onto a SPARE IDEA card. Place these in categorised boxes. Then, next time, when you are sitting through a idea drought, reach into the box of spare ideas and find new inspiration!