by Allison De Meulder
What do pasta and brainstorming meetings have in common? They can both be sticky. Brainstorming in my company was focused on leading others in a way where collaboration was key. We needed to accomplish various goals, including: bringing new products to market, surviving during economic downturns, and creating revenue generators. I recommend doing this together, and that means, whether you are in the shipping area or IT department, you’ve got ideas, and they need to be heard. So how do you collaboratively brainstorm and throw pasta at the wall and see what sticks?
Bring together a mish mosh of people.
Group staff together in a room. Bring together 1-3 representatives from each team or department, so you only have a few from each area and together you have one melting pot of people from all areas of your company. A good mush pot includes, production, design, accounting, IT and management. The various vantage points of the company are sure to come out when idea generation kicks in. The more varied the teams are, the more varied the ideas will be. You don’t want groupthink, you want the creative juices flowing. You need a problem solved or a revenue generating idea, you don’t want everyone in the room regurgitating the same thing.
Be simple and to the point, don’t get saucy.
State what the meeting is about. For example, if the meeting is about bringing in more revenue for the holiday season, state just that. Don’t give too much background as this leads to appropriate or the right answers. At this moment, you want mostly viable but out-of- the-box ideas. Once ideas have been generated you can get down to the nitty gritty of those details. Sometimes knowing less is giving you more to work with.
Start placing the pasta.
Have a white board, mine is floor to ceiling and after I have stated the problem or question at hand, I call for staff to call out ideas. No idea is too small, too big, too intelligent or too silly. Everything goes. So, proceed to write absolutely everything on the board. You are haphazardly placing your pasta pieces, filling up the board with words placed vertically and horizontally. Throw in that creative flair.That is what is so amazing about the process, is that there is no judgement. The person at the board gives nothing away, keep that poker face on! Just keep writing. What you will find is, one person’s idea leads to another idea and another one, and they feed off of each other for an amazing brainstorming session.
Now it’s time to pull out the special sauce.
Now you are going to navigate through all of the ideas. In the room, go one by one, you can wait for a collective “yay” or “that’s not going to happen” or you can cross off some answers yourself and do others as a group. Feel free to apply judgement at this point because the initial creative process of the idea generation is over and now it’s time to turn on the “MOADIS” hat, made up of management, operations, accounting, design, IT, sales and marketing, and see how the ideas fit in with the reality of “MOADIS.” Always be kind and respectful. It is essential not to be overly critical of an idea but rather give reasons it could or could not work. Idea generation should be a safe space.
Once the process of throwing pasta on the wall is over, and you and your team have gone through the list, it is a good idea to narrow down to five viable options. Take these finalists away from the meeting by circling them and giving a round of applause not only for these sticky ideas, but to everyone who participated in the brainstorming. For many, this was out of their comfort zone. So their efforts should be applauded. Mull over these finalist ideas on your own, with management, or with key decision makers. See what sticks and utilize collaborative brainstorming to keep your organization delicious!
As founder of Invitation Consultants and Matrick and Eve, she was a pioneer in the online invitation and stationery industry. As owner and CEO of the Ecommerce company, retail store and wholesale greeting card business, she managed, directed, created and collaborated. Building company culture, mentoring and empowering teams, and developing products are her passion. Allison sold her startup after 18 years and now through speaking engagements, consulting, writing a book, and hosting the podcast Emerson Built That, she has taken her experience, passion and challenges and built a voice that resonates with others who are aspiring to start a business, thinking about selling a business, and all of the fun times in between.