Every now and then, I return to an article which first appeared in Fast Company more than 10 years ago, entitled “Attention, Class! 16 Ways to Be a Smarter Teacher” by Chuck Slater. As he states at the beginning of the article, “In a fast-moving economy that is driven by ideas, an essential part of being a leader is being a good teacher.”
His reference to “ideas” has long intrigued me as it relates to leadership, to the point that after re-reading the article last week, I sat down and composed my homage to Slater’s original work: “16 Ways to Be A Better Brainstormer.”
1. It’s not about you. It’s about the idea. Ego-driven brainstorming never works. It’s similar to a brand. You never own the idea, you only manage its relevance to the audience.
2. Know your audience. You can’t brainstorm any good idea unless you have a thorough understanding of how the audience behaves – not just know their demographics.
3. Conduct your brainstorm in a compassionate, risk-free environment. The moment you allow negativity and pre-judgment to enter the brainstorm, it’s over.
4. Generating ideas require both passion and a clear purpose. Think of brainstorming like a candle. The purpose is the wick. The passion ignites the wick. Together, you get illumination.
5. Ideas resonate more when the audience can experience its relevance for themselves. If you have to explain the idea to the audience, it’s not a good idea. The idea must stand and be understood on its own.
6. Keep the idea simple, even when the thought behind it may be complex. There is no such thing as a complex good idea. As the adage goes, “An intelligent person makes complexity simple. An idiot makes complexity more complex.”
7. Don’t allow your idea to sacrifice your credibility. Your ideas reflect the brand. Never let your enthusiasm for the idea destroy your brand’s reputation.
8. Create ideas from the heart, not from the mind. The emotional mind is creative. The rational mind is strategic. Don’t try to brainstorm from the wrong mindset.
9. Repeat the brainstorm. Then, repeat it again. Ideas don’t appear on command. They take time to develop and mature. Brainstorm early and often.
10. Good brainstormers ask good questions. One of the best indicators of a creative mind is its curiosity. One of the best indicators of curiosity is the quality of the questions.
11. Don’t overwhelm the brainstorm with too much information. Give yourself (and your team mates) just enough information to be dangerous. So many brainstorms – either formal or informal – waste valuable time reviewing statistics. Share only what’s necessary. If it takes longer than a few minutes to present, ruthlessly edit.
12. Spend more time brainstorming and less time criticizing. I’ve said before, don’t hatch and grade at the same time. They’re separate tasks. You want to generate as many ideas as possible, because when you begin to judge, only 10 per cent of ideas will be useable. By creating volume – even of bad ideas (the 90 percent) – you exponentially increase the volume of good ideas at the same time.
13. Learn what to focus on. The focus should always be the match between objective and outcome. What do you want the idea to do? If you get lost or stuck, reframe your objective.
14. Don’t only brainstorm by yourself any more than don’t only brainstorm in groups. Some creative experts swear that independent solo brainstorming should be done first. Others prefer the group method. Neither is fully right or wrong because everyone brainstorms differently. (See next point.) Instead, do both, frequently. and judiciously.
15. Don’t use the same brainstorm approach for everyone. An essential element of creativity is diversity. People think differently, so use this to your advantage.
16. Never stop creating ideas. Athletes or artists don’t suddenly become brilliant in their chosen field. It takes hours of intense practice. The same is true with creativity. You can’t suddenly come up with a sensational idea if you never practice and stretch your creative muscles.
In keeping with Slater’s original theme, I kept to sixteen. But, I’d like to add one last point not covered above because it’s as much about creativity as it is about leadership.
Allow yourself to make mistakes. You will always come up with more bad ideas than good ideas. The key is looking through the rubble of bad ideas to find the nugget of good. Personally, I can’t take seriously someone who hasn’t made a huge creative mistake. To me, it’s a direct sign of whether they’ll take a risk, which is always a sign of their creative spirit. A person who plays too much by the rules means they’re a good follower, never a good leader.