Brainstorming in a Digital World, Part 20
Part #1 is here.
When I began leading brainstorms as a full-time activity, one of the first strange experiences was running an ideation session with a group of people who weren’t even in the same room. Some weren’t even on the continent. I was on squawk box in Chicago. Two people argued in New York. A woman in Miami had a radio playing in the background, and a poor half-asleep person in Beijing woke up every now and then (it was 1 am) to say mumble something.
Despite its revolutionary brilliance, the Digital World still needs the human brain to come up with ideas. The key is finding ways to use its tools to bring disparate people – by space, by geography, by ideology – together mentally to facilitate their creative skills. The good news is that the tools improve every day, and will only get better.
I have my own preferences: love some, hate others. If we compared our lists, I’m sure we’d clash. Here’s where we should agree: the ground rules for brainstorming in a digital world.
Be explicit from the beginning a number of imperative elements.
- The direction of the project, assignment or campaign.
- The goal or purpose.
- The problem to solve. A one-paragraph history of the problem would be helpful. Be Twitteresque: if not 140 words, less is more.
- The target audience and their mindset.
- Your expectations as leader and/or facilitator.
- The roles and responsibilities of team members.
- The outcome you expect by the end of the brainstorm, as well as the end of the campaign. This secondary point should re-connect with #2.
Make your notes public and clear.
One of the weaknesses of audio-only brainstorming is that words disperse immediately. You don’t know when a statement – however obtuse, idiotic, irrelevant – might spark someone else’s imagination. As much as possible, I try to create a public notes system – SharePoint works great – so people can see and comment.
Keep clear/clean notes – in whatever format is most suitable for the local teams. Some of my team preferred to take photos of flipchart pages and post them on Flickr. Others preferred PowerPoint or Keynote. One man does all his thinking of his iPad. Another detests electricity and prefers coloured pencils. Whatever works: but make sure everyone shares.
Keep all ideas – both good and bad. But, keep the best separated from the discarded.
Less time audio-wise is generally better.
It minimises small talk and chatter. Try to limit talkers: one at a time. If you hear small conversations beginning, encourage it – but move it off-line. To this last point, I’m a big believer in local brainstorms rather than en masse. If we get agree online the key points, then smaller teams can discuss locally and then share their input on SharePoint or similar.
Be clear on roles. And keep the team accountable.
Everyone should have a role and understand it. As time goes by, roles and assignment might change. Be transparent and communicate often and regularly.
Keep the team accountable. Use the team to lift an individual. A bit of constructive peer pressure and competition is good – but the operative word is “constructive.”
Mix up styles.
There are so many different ways to use the Internet. Try them all: group videos, chatrooms, photo galleries, a wiki throughout to keep track of notes and ideas, etc.
The Internet is great, don’t get my wrong. But always set aside time for your brain to think on its own, preferably in isolation so it can focus. Good ideas universally come from a combination of private and group thinking.
Part #1 is here.