Critical thinking is important. But creative thinking is underrated in comparison – and it’s equally valuable for generating solutions and seeing opportunities. You should be aiming to elevate your team’s creative thinking skills during brainstorming sessions specifically, which can often start with good intentions but end up going nowhere.
Before diving into how to enhance your brainstorming sessions with creative thinking skills, it’s important to understand what creative thinking is at its core – it’s not just the idea of being creative, but it’s a skill that can be taught, according to an ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research) report. Creative thinking is “the capacity to generate many different kinds of ideas, manipulate ideas in unusual ways and make unconventional connections in order to outline novel possibilities that have the potential to elegantly meet a given purpose,” wrote the authors of the report. In other words, you may think that strokes of genius happen randomly, but they are often the result of the ability to use information in a unique way.
Ready to bring out the different creative thinking strengths of your team members? Lee Gimpel, a professional meeting facilitator and trainer, and the founder of Better Meetings, offers four facilitation techniques below to unleash those creative juices during your next brainstorming session.
1. High-volume ideation
Gimpel recommends going for volume first: Aim to generate lots of ideas before judging which ones are better than others. “One of the most effective ways to avoid a pitfall of brainstorming is to put more ideas on the table rather than only start with a few possibilities,” he says. “This is a very common approach where divergent thinking gives rise to many possibilities, and then convergent thinking narrows those down to the best answers.”
According to him, starting with 50 ways – yes, you should aim that high – to look at a problem instead of five, for example, tends to diversify the thinking from the start. “This process also has the advantage of involving more people and establishing a pattern of open discussion where everyone’s voice counts, which is key as discussions progress to final action steps,” he says.
The four-step sketch exercise, as outlined by SessionLab, builds on this ideation principle. Here’s how it works: Have your team members individually go over key information regarding a problem or situation and take notes. Ask them to review their notes and doodle rough solutions. Then, do crazy 8s – ask each person to rapidly conceptualize eight variations of their ideas. Finally, give team members more time to flesh out the final solution of their choice in detail. Share those refined ideas publicly and vote on the best solution.
2. Small group huddles
You can also use small group huddles to activate creative thinking skills in a brainstorming. “If you break big groups into smaller pods–groups of two to five people–and let them discuss the issue and report back, you tend to get much better brainstorming results compared to what you’d see from one monolithic group,” says Gimpel. “It lets many more discussions happen, with many more ideas or solutions being considered and debated, avoiding the pull of gravity of a single person or idea.”
3. Power dynamic shift
Subtle power dynamics often get in the way of creative thinking skills. Creating a shift in the normal power structure of your team can be an intentional way to allow contributors to feel comfortable expressing their own creative thinking when they wouldn’t otherwise. How? Ask an outsider to facilitate the brainstorming session.
“Having someone else facilitate a brainstorming session makes it more likely that the group will behave differently than it would with the normal power structure and dynamics in place,” according to Gimpel. “A professional facilitator is best, but even having someone from another department stand in could be better than the status quo.”
4. Anonymous conversation starters
Anonymous conversation starters also create psychological safety and nurture creative thinking. Again, it’s about creating an environment where people feel safe going outside the box and inspired to share their creativity without the fear of what others will think – a key factor for flexing those creative thinking muscles.
“Allow space for disagreement and doubt,” says Gimpel. “If the group’s culture means that people are unlikely to offer new or contrary ideas, look for ways to anonymize their thoughts. One of the oldest methods is to have them write out ideas on note cards with no names attached,” he suggests.