Anyone in the modern world would have to be considered an internet outcast if they were not using one of the major social media sites today. Whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, or the newer Google+ or Pinterest, these sites all have a couple of traits in common: sharing information and creating networks.
However, when it comes to using their network when they have some issue or challenge that they need to solve, most of the users of these sites don’t know how best to take advantage of their networks.
Brainstorming is a familiar term that conjures up an image of a boring-looking conference room, a group of employees, an easel, and dry erase pens. You might also see a department manager or executive who is versed in different brainstorming methods leading a discussion on how to solve some business issue. Let’s call this Formal Brainstorming.
Small business owners, especially sole proprietorships, may not have the employees or the expertise to conduct a Formal Brainstorming session. However, they may need as much, or more, help generating ideas to solve some issue or to create an innovation than larger companies. Even if a small business owner has some interesting ideas, they may still need help fleshing them out into something truly innovative. That where Casual Brainstorming comes in.
With Casual Brainstorming, the business owner simply gets together with a couple of people over coffee or lunch to talk about their challenge and come up with some ideas. They won’t be posting notes all over the walls or using brainstorming methods, and it may not be as effective as getting professional brainstorming help, but they can obtain a lot of value out of this type of meeting.
In order to make effective use of Casual Brainstorming, there are some important steps that will lead to success:
1. Select a diverse group of people. If you want a variety of ideas, you need a variety of people. Two to four is the optimal number of people for Casual Brainstorming
2. Invite them to coffee or lunch. It’s IMPORTANT that you tell your invitees what the business challenge is that you are trying to solve at least a couple of days before you meet and ask them to come to the meeting with three to four ideas.
3. At the meeting place, let them know not to initially judge or criticize ideas; this can be difficult because it’s natural for people to jump in and start evaluating. As the leader, it’s your responsibility to keep this under control.
4. First, tell your friends that as they throw out their ideas, it may trigger additional ideas (or variations of an idea) in their minds. Ask them to write those down, and tell everyone they’ll get a second chance to throw in their additional thoughts. Now ask for the ideas that they have brought with them
5. Now that you have a good list of ideas, ask the group if they have any other ideas (or variations of ideas) that came to them as they were listening to other people present. You can promote this by saying: “I like it; does anybody have any ideas on how can we make it even better?”
6. As a group, try to build on the ideas, and discuss the ones that seem to have the most traction. Here’s where you ask your folks to speak freely and lay it all out there. Try to get a sense of which ideas get the most enthusiasm.
7. Take tons of notes. Record the session if necessary in order to make sure you capture everything.
As the leader you have a few rules to follow:
• Keep the energy up, and keep the attitude positive.
• Keep this meeting to less than 90 minutes. Stay focused and on target. Since your time is limited, don’t let the conversation stray.
• Look for breakthrough improvements, as well as incremental improvements.
• Make sure everyone has input during the meeting.
You can find out more information about brainstorming at the Helpful Resources section of www.simplyinnovate.net.
Take advantage of your network and, by the way, make sure that you pick up the tab for coffee or lunch. You’ll find the money spent to be a great investment.
image credit: flickr.com.
Joseph Stein is the author of Bottom-up and Top-down Innovation and Founder/President at Simply Innovate, a California-based Innovation consulting practice mentoring business professionals and young students. His background combines expertise in Public Speaking, Strategy, Finance Technology, Mergers and Acquisitions, Restaurants, Insurance, Public Offerings, and Executive Management.