Hello there! My name is Marco Gervasio and this is a collection of stories about how interaction design, digital marketing, visual design, and social media can come together to create powerful programs and platforms for a meaningful customer experience. Feel free to reach out to me:

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Get The Most Out Of Brainstorming Sessions & Ideation Jams

One of the most important phases of a service or product development is coming up with a big idea. A client gives us a challenge, strategy uncovers opportunities, and then it’s time to bring the vision to life. Unfortunately, the way we go about finding great ideas is where many organizations have trouble. Some people think concepts will come up just like that if we sit down and talk about it, but the creative process is much more complex and organic. That’s why designers and creative directors often struggle when working in overly structure environment and within a rigid workflow.

In order to get the best out of your talents, you have to give them not only flexibility but also true enablement. Your team must be granted the time, means, and responsibility to go through a solid ideation process so inventiveness can occur. But what is a good process, one that will allow your team to reach nirvana and present brilliant solutions to your clients?

First off, everyone must understand exactly what we are trying to achieve. A good brief should clearly present the people we are trying to serve (client and audience), how we think we can solve the problem, and why we think it is going to work. Once the strategy has been enriched and validated by the team and the client, the creative process can begin. Get your talent ready for some brainstorming.

But let’s do a step back. What is a brainstorming session, you may ask. Most commonly, it is known as the generation of ideas in a face-to-face setting. A group of people will share thoughts through discussion, writing, and drawing with the intent of finding solutions, opportunities, or concepts. It’s a great way to solve things quickly and the collaborative aspect makes it very “agile” in nature.

An alternative to these sessions are idea jams, an activity allowing team members to submit ideas over a longer period of times, sharing them online or through some other form of communication or publication. This approach is useful when you want to reach a larger group of people, when people live in various geographical locations, or when a challenge requires iterative research. Generating ideas can also be done individually, often to prepare for jams or brainstorms. Techniques like mind mapping or mood boards is a great way to do find ideas by association and collect inspirational elements.

One of the most common mistakes when it comes to organizing a brainstorm session is the lack of preparation. I have too often been invited to these idea generation meetings where people were either not given enough context or insufficient time to research and incubate prior to the session. Here’s how to get things organized:

Phase 1: Planning
- Problem definition and opportunity
- Ideation objectives and scope
- Participants identification
- Pre-session homework
- Timeframe

Phase 2: Ideation Session(s)
- Introduction
- Warm-up exercise
- Brainstorm
- Summary of results
- Next steps

Phase 3: Analysis
- Evaluation of ideas
- Decision process (selection or iteration)

Before the session, make sure all participants are introduced properly to the purpose of the ideation exercise. Send them a brief with related references and resources. Giving participants homework will allow them to understand better the context and problem as well as start seeding some ideas in their minds. Giving homework can be assigning specific research areas such as market trends, best practices, and innovation, or preparatory exercises like individual mind mapping.

During the session, the facilitator plays an important role. Not only does she have to keep the session on track but must act as stimulator so the team is continuously engaged and generating ideas. The facilitator must be objective and should ideally have no particular attachment to the project. Respect is also a very important value to promote during these sessions. It is sometimes tempting to give a negative comment about someone’s idea, but that can affect the mood and productivity level. As a rule of thumb, every idea is good and deserves attention. Even if one may seem underwhelming, it can spark another idea in someone else’s mind. So, everything contribution counts during the brainstorm. The basic rules:

- Every idea has value, never criticize them even if they are similar to others or seem off
- Every idea is the result of collective thinking and belongs to no one in particular
- Generate many ideas and push your team to take risks

After the session or jam, it’s time to sort and evaluate ideas. These can be grouped in categories and similar ideas can be merged. Additional feedback or specifications about certain ideas can be requested from the team afterwards. Most importantly, the leader or the group must decide on which ideas will be kept and promoted. To do so, ideas need to be evaluated for not only for their novel qualities and technical feasibility but also for how they can successfully solve the problem. The group can be asked to perform this evaluation by submitting a ranking or rating for each idea.

The amazing thing about brainstorm sessions is how it helps achieve greatness collaboratively. Often enough, people invited to these sessions do work together on other projects and such creative gatherings can help them develop more affinity. There is a tremendous sentiment of shared accomplishment when the group finds a great solution and solves a tough problem together.

Key take-away:

- Never underestimate the power of collective thinking
- Consider group ideation more often, event to address smaller challenges
- Always prepare for a session and get the team ready
- All ideas are good and belong to everyone
- Respect and encouragement is key

 

Marco Gervasio

 

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