Ask a hiring manager about the marketing team’s approach to brainstorming, and they may paint a picture of a brilliant and cohesive team that generates amazing new ideas, resulting in immense delight for millions of people. But let’s face it, most group brainstorm sessions are nothing but a waste of time and money. Despite our best efforts, we keep ignoring the science and data behind idea generation, leaving content marketing brainstorming as an elusive best practice.
It’s puzzling that in an age where marketers strive to remove all subjectivity from their work, relying on data-driven decisions, brainstorm sessions are somehow still accepted as mystical experiences that hold all the answers to transform our businesses. In reality, the headlines of our brainstorm meetings would probably read more like this:
- Marketing Team Excited About a Pile of Ideas They’ll Never Execute
- Brainstorm Session Sidetracked by a Hyperactive Colleague
- Proud Boss Beams as Team “Feels It” – Has No Idea How to Recreate It
- Teammates Stare at the Table, Waiting for Someone Else to Speak
Clearly, brainstorm sessions need a more objective approach. The science tells us that individuals outperform groups in generating both the quantity and quality of ideas. So why do we continue to rely on group brainstorming sessions?
In her book, Creative Conspiracy, Leigh Thompson of the Kellogg School of Management cites numerous studies that debunk the effectiveness of group brainstorming. Issues like talkative teammates monopolizing the conversation, pragmatic colleagues dismissing bold ideas, and the influence of recency rather than merit all contribute to the failure of these sessions.
The solution lies in embracing the science behind brainstorming while still adhering to the ingrained behaviors of our teams. And that’s where the humble sticky note steps in.
What the Science Says
Research consistently shows that individuals excel at generating ideas, while groups are better at evaluating them. To harness this, we need to brainstorm separately and alone, then come together as a group to refine and select the best ideas. As Leigh Thompson writes, “True collaboration often calls for periods of focused, independent work, interspersed with periods of intense, structured team interaction.”
It’s easy to understand the theory, but changing our behavior is the real challenge. Thankfully, the sticky note provides a simple yet effective solution. Here’s how we can apply it:
A Simple Approach to Brainstorming
Step 1: Establish a single meeting leader.
In every meeting, there should be a designated leader. In this process, the leader fulfills a critical role.
Step 2: Write or display a problem statement on the wall.
Frame the problem statement from the perspective of your buyer, not your company. For example, instead of focusing on increasing qualified traffic, address a problem your audience faces and indicate how your content aims to solve it.
Step 3: Give each individual a stack of sticky notes.
Provide ample sticky notes to ensure there’s no hesitation in jotting down ideas.
Step 4: Ask individuals to write their ideas.
Set a specific time frame for everyone, including yourself, to write as many ideas as possible on sticky notes. Encourage them to focus on solving the problem statement and not worry about implementation or uniqueness. The goal here is sheer volume.
Step 5: Collect each sticky note one at a time.
Have one volunteer read their ideas aloud, placing each sticky note on the board. Group identical or similar ideas together, while also noting unique ones.
Step 6: Give a final call for ideas.
Invite participants to share any new ideas that may have emerged during the process.
Step 7: Use the group format to evaluate and select the best ideas.
Now is the time to leverage the power of the group. Engage in discussions, vote for favorite ideas, and improve upon the suggestions. Embrace the collaborative spirit while focusing on solving your audience’s problems and achieving your team’s goals.
By following this systematic approach, you can enhance the effectiveness of brainstorm sessions without disrupting your team’s established behaviors.
In conclusion, in an industry saturated with best practices, we need to break free and develop unique practices that generate original ideas. The sticky note methodology allows us to tap into the science of brainstorming while maintaining the comfort of our traditional approach. So, the next time you encounter the elusive Muse, grab your sticky notes and show her that you’re fully prepared.
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