Ideas for Encouraging Collaboration and Creativity Part II: how to brainstorm properly

If you are looking to start an innovations group either in your school or across county and you want to focus on a particular issue then you probably need to thrash out some ideas before you decide. A good old-fashioned brain-storming session will be great starting point for your collaboration. We also mentioned a few ideas about brainstorming and collaborating online in this post: How to collaborate virtually. Here follows a set of ideas which we use to work and plan together on projects, books or workshops and we feel they work very well.

Alien Worlds

The key to a successful brainstorming session is what you and other people bring to the table. So, let’s see what you have! Take out a piece of paper, a comfortable pen and list or map out your thoughts about this question for 3-5 minutes (be as specific as possible – you may need to break down ‘my experience’ to smaller chunks for example) :

What will I bring that will benefit the brainstorming session/planning meeting?

Now think about this question:

What will other people bring?

The aim is of course to have a varied group of people with different experiences but that is not possible all the time so what do you do then?  If you want to ensure that there is a constant flow of creativity within the group try to:

  • Read different literature e.g. books that indirectly have little to do with your area of expertise (see the end of the post for suggestions that will encourage creativity and innovation).
  • Subscribe to an inspirational magazine e.g. WIRED UK
  • Investigate new music and art e.g. try iTunes Essentials, Live365 or Spotify for new music, visit Banksy’s website to get inspired with street art, learn something new at LifeHacks or discover how almost anything works at How Stuff Works.
  • Give each member of the group a new persona, or role to play based on Tom Kelley’s Ten Faces of Innovation to really push yourselves to become more innovative (read this post about using Ten Faces of innovation with students).

Building up a portfolio of ideas takes time and a lot of hard work so it is important get into a sort of routine of collecting and recording as you go along. List books you want to buy, rip out magazine articles, save online using tools like EverNote or Awesome Note, note down quotes and words of wisdow or interesting websites. These might be invaluable one day.

The Idea Board

The idea board is a place where you add not only your ‘light bulb’ moments but also what may seem like minor ideas at the time. One such way could be to keep stickies nearby, adding notes to a Moleskin sketch-book, use your mobile phone to save thoughts or keep a washable mini-whiteboard in your office. Most of our ideas have come from some of these fleeting thoughts, and this plays a crucial part in the creative process.

Dumping Ground?

There are different ways of brainstorming, some structure their chaos by adding, ‘dumping’, all their ideas and suggestions on a long list – the more words the better. ‘Dumpers’ then organise their additions on a mind-map and can therefore categorise and group ideas more easily (this method is explained in more detail in the book Thinking Skills and Eye-Q).

Another way is to assign a scribe and everyone throws suggestions at them to write down on a flip-chart or similar. The key thing here is that there is no order except from the fact that the scribe ensures that all voices are heard – quantity is important here, not quality (well at least not yet!). Don’t be put off if all your ideas seem impossible or even stupid, because they are not. Think of each suggestion as a stepping stone to the team’s final idea and without these initial thoughts none of you would have got anywhere, so keep thrashing out ideas but leave the devil’s advocate outside (at least for a while).

Distance and Fuel

If you prepared well by stimulating your mind and recorded your thoughts of inspiration on the Idea Board as well as filled your dumping ground, or not, with lots of interesting (and let’s face it, not so interesting ideas), now is the time to take a well deserved break. Distancing yourself from all the suggestions, ideas, solutions and problems as well as refueling on coffee, water, biscuits and food is crucial if you are to come up with a truly innovative idea. This may only involve going for a brief walk, ordering a decent espresso or ‘sleeping on it’, you know what works best for you. But don’t skip this bit, you might regret it.

North or South?

This is the time to decide which way to go or what idea to run with and it might take some time. We have found that running with one seemingly obvious idea sometimes leads to the actual idea, perhaps one that was mentioned at the start of the process. Yet, this is not wasting time as without this creative activity we wouldn’t have thought of the end product and it’s always different to what we thought – but very exciting!

Creative Books

Here follows a list of books we have read and used often when we meet up to work. Some are just for inspiration whilst others have become great guides for us both.

The Ten Faces of Innovation: Strategies for Heightening Creativity

Dan Pink: Drive The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Harris, Caviglioli, Thompson: Thinking Skills and Eye Q: Visual Tools for Raising Intelligence

Banksy: Wall or Piece

Steve Jobs: The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience

Alain de Botton: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

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Johannes Ahrenfelt

Johannes Ahrenfelt has previously worked as County Advisor for Learning & Teaching with ICT, Head of Department and University Lecturer. He has taught for 10+ years in schools around Norfolk, UK, and is currently leading an inspirational team in Norwich as Head of Faculty. Johannes shares his passion for pedagogy on his blog, social media and when delivering training in the UK and abroad. He has also published several books worldwide, one of which has been translated into Mandarin and Malayan.

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