Simple Steps to Help You Get More out of Creative Meetings

by PHIL ALBRITTON, owner, Power Kid Design & Development

As you read this, your brain is very busy. Reading requires several areas of your brain to coordinate and deliver information in a synchronized way. To decode the written text, your temporal lobe is actively and inwardly sounding out each word to determine its meaning. Your left frontal lobe is responsible for reading fluency and grammar comprehension, working to process the words into a string of recognizable information. The angular gyrus region in the back middle of your brain functions as a reading integrator and allows you to connect the dots between visual input and meaningful output. Without this region, the letters T-O-Y would not equate to the word “toy.” Currently, millions of synapses are firing in your brain as neural connections are strengthening.

Your brain is the most powerful computer in existence. Did it feel that way in your last new product brainstorming session? If not, rest assured that there is nothing wrong with your brain. But there are slight changes you and your team can make to help shake loose more powerful and creative ideas. Here are some practical, executable tips.

Know Your Problem

Albert Einstein famously said he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution. Take note, and make sure all participants have a clear understanding of the objective before beginning any brainstorm session. Are you trying to develop the next tween craft hit? Are you expanding on a previously successful brand and finding new markets to attack? Are you trying to fill a price gap?

Having a clear, thorough understanding of the objective focuses your discussion and enhances the quality of the concepts you generate. Once you define your goal, phrase it in the form of an intriguing question. Our brains are wired to ask and solve questions, so even if it’s subconscious, we will begin to work toward a solution.

Move to a new environment

Avoid environments that hinder movement. Standard boardrooms are typically terrible places to try to be creative. Instead, try a living room, a rented restaurant space, or an outdoor venue. One of my favorite brainstorming locations is the Starbucks at my local Target. It is a relatively calm environment, yet it’s close enough to take quick walks through the aisles. Within reason, encourage participants to stand, stretch, or pace. This freedom not only allows your whole body to work toward the goal, but also often helps to produce a fun, free environment. Then, the meeting is less susceptible to social barriers that may discourage some from sharing ideas.

Everyone in the meeting should have unlined paper and pencils. When focused on new-concept development, I am never too far from a small bit of Kinetic Sand, LEGO bricks, or Sculpey. Your body movement and creative brain activity accentuate each other. By including sketch pads, clay, or other creative mediums, you are feeding the brainstorming group’s senses and to act on new ideas immediately.

Break for the mundane

Allow breaks so participants can recharge and refresh. The goal of downtime is to jolt everyone into a different state of mind. Done correctly, brainstorming sessions are invigorating and exhausting. By stepping out for a quiet walk or lunch, we shift our environment and renew our thoughts.

In this time (30 minutes to an hour), you should avoid thinking about the problem at hand. Instead, listen to music, eat a good meal, or enjoy nature. After time alone, you will find stepping back into brainstorming enjoyable, and that your time away has freed your mind to consider new possibilities.

Introduce some constraints

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos exercises this tactic with his “two-pizza teams” rule. If you can’t feed a team with two pizzas, it’s too big. Small teams allow for more independent ideas and quick-moving action points.

Rather than opening the flood gates with a “no bad ideas” policy, I sometimes prefer to create artificial boundaries during creative discussions. I like to do this in 15-minute bursts. For example, allot 15 minutes during which no one is allowed to suggest an idea that would retail for more than roughly $2.99. Next, no ideas utilizing plastic. Short bursts can help your team avoid being paralyzed in the face of too many possible options. I am convinced that fresh creativity occurs as a result of a slow accumulation of small insights over time, rather than an instantaneous moment of brilliance. Great ideas take time and build on one another.

Just as each part of your networked brain is strengthened while reading, you can train your mind to generate focused and meaningful creative thoughts by introducing these practices in your brainstorming sessions.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of the Toy Book.