A lot can be riding on the outcome of corporate brainstorming sessions. The list includes the need to come up with ideas for the creation and successful launch of new products and services; the development of effective strategies and techniques to address unexpected challenges; and the identification of key messages and tactics for responding to crises.
With so much at stake, business executives should take steps to ensure the meetings are as productive and successful as possible.
According to business leaders, consultants and new research, the secret of success lies in where the sessions are held. In short: location, location, location.
Brainstorming at a physical location instead of from a virtual one—such as video platform Zoom—can help get the creative juices 0f participants flowing easier, faster and more often.
A new study published in the journal Nature last week found that face-to-face teams help generate ideas better than those who meet virtually.
“Video meetings dampen brainstorming because we are so hyper-focused on the face in that box [on the screen ] that we don’t let our eyes and minds wander as much. “ the study found. “Staring isn’t good for creativity. While it’s rude to stare at someone in real life, it’s expected when on a video call, “ researchers said.
Nathan Richardson founded Bariatric Journal, a resource for weight loss surgery patients. He observed that “people can focus better when they’re in the same room. With the multitude of communication tools available online, it can be difficult for participants to focus on the task at hand. This can also lead to distractions and interruptions during virtual meetings, which makes it harder for teams to get their work done.”
Ironically, his publication, the Bariatric Journal was the product of an in-person brainstorming session. “It’s a collaborative effort between creatives and doctors to create a reliable online resource for bariatric surgery. Since we’d be sharing medical information, it was important that all parties involved had a clear overview of our objectives to ensure that we were all on the same page.
“Discussing this in person made it easier to explain, clarify and build ideas—so the progress was always continuous,” Richardson concluded.
In-person meetings can provide a level playing field where more people have opportunities to contribute more often than in virtual settings.
Daniel Levine is a trends expert, keynote speaker and director of the Avant Guide Institute who often leads brainstorming sessions with teams from companies and organizations. He observed that “… virtual brainstorming sessions are not even close to being as effective as face-to-face ones for many reasons, chief among those being that dominant personalities dominate even more online.”
Where and how his sessions were conducted appeared to have led to important results for his clients.
“Working live, in-person with a team from Intel, we created a very cool sport-related mobile phone app that demonstrates the company’s big data and analytics capabilities to general audiences. In another session with a large hotel group in Iceland, we riffed on recent trends in travel to build a new kind of experiential resort,” he recalled.
There are built-in advantages of in-person meetings that can lead to more creativity and better ideas.
Mark Beal is an assistant professor of professional practice communication at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information. “Having participated in thousands of creative brainstorm sessions in my 30-year career in public relations and now as a university professor, a physical in-person setting offers inspiring elements that can’t be replicated via virtual ones.”
According to Beal, “The verbal and physical interactions between participants are more spontaneous as opposed to being limited to one person speaking at a time during a virtual session. In an in-person session, physical exercises can be incorporated to inspire creative ideation.”
He noted that touch, feel and taste play a role in successful brainstorming, especially if it centers around a product. “Even more impactful is staging the brainstorming session in a venue where a product or service such as automobiles, toys, food, beverages and consumer package goods are marketed and sold. You can’t replicate that experience virtually.”
Dean Guida, CEO of Infragistics and founder of digital workplace Slingshot, noted that “There’s something to be said about people in a room putting their heads together to come up with creative ideas and problem solve—it creates a community. It’s hard to replicate this kind of community in a virtual brainstorm.
‘’With ideas constantly bouncing off of one another, there’s an excitement that emerges in sharing ideas. This kind of environment can also create a space where everyone feels comfortable contributing—even people who may typically keep ideas to themselves. Teams also can put away their laptops and phones and focus on the task at hand,” Guida said.
Getting out of the office to conduct brainstorming meetings can be just as helpful as getting off Zoom, noted Richard Robinson, managing director of digital consultancy Xeim Engage. He advises companies about training programs and other matters.
“Where you brainstorm is as important as what you brainstorm. Setting the scene, preparing the people, getting uncomfortable with the comfort of the office,” Robinson counseled.
“If you want a big idea [then] break free of [the] limitations of Zoom, get into the wild, [and] challenge yourself to think and see [things] differently,’’ he advised.
The sites of their brainstorming sessions have included the kitchens of restaurants, on the shop floor of retailers, in sound studios of headphone manufacturers and in the sensory labs of perfume companies.
They even met in the war room of the British warship HMS Belfast which fired some of the first shots in the D-Day landings, was part of the Arctic convoys that protected merchant ships during World War II and saw service in the Korean War. The ship is now on display on the River Thames in London.
Why hold a brainstorming session on a warship? Because it was an ideal venue for tackling the consultancy’s urgent need to fight and win yet another war — albeit an e-commerce one for a client.
Then, as before, it was about location, location, location.
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