Want to innovate while working remotely? Rethink the way you brainstorm

December 22, 2020, 11:00 AM UTC
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Most companies start with a great idea, but only organizations that keep generating great ideas—and execute on them—stay relevant. One key to unlocking continuous innovation? Effective brainstorming. 

In March, when the world transitioned to remote work in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we at Lucid quickly realized that we didn’t have a way to collaborate and brainstorm the way we did in the office. That meant we couldn’t innovate as before. We needed a way to re-create the collaborative experience of in-person brainstorming with a dry-erase board. So we innovated and built a virtual whiteboard called Lucidspark. 

Facilitating creativity, bringing together diverse perspectives, and developing an action plan are the foundation of impactful brainstorming. Right now, as we all navigate this new normal, effective brainstorming will be critical to staying relevant and innovative in overcoming future challenges.

What makes good brainstorming

Every organization approaches brainstorming a bit differently. Here are five best practices we use that you can apply to your company. 

Embrace structure.

Most people are familiar with the adage “Creativity loves constraints.” Free-form, unstructured brainstorming doesn’t necessarily lead to creativity and ideas. Without proper guidance, brainstorming sessions can quickly derail into silent coworkers waiting for one another to speak up, hindering the ideation process. 

The fix is simple: Structure your brainstorming session. According to a recent study, it’s only when your teams have focus and direction that creativity really starts to thrive. While every minute doesn’t need to be planned out, providing some structure facilitates the flow of ideas. This can be accomplished by setting time limits, budgets, or rules for the brainstorming session. 

These guidelines aid your teams in drawing connections between important concepts, leading to fresh insights and innovative solutions. Constraints challenge teams to think divergently and avoid complacency in the ideation process. Providing this structure means your teams can think outside the box, making it easier to pivot quickly, adapt to changes to meet customer needs, and find unique solutions for your organization’s problems. 

Attract a diversity of perspectives.

Homogeneous thinking kills innovation. When you bring the same five people to the table, you risk not hearing from new voices that may have ideas to drive your business forward. 

Creativity thrives in cross-functional brainstorming. Each team member offers a distinct background, skill set, and expertise to foster productive, innovative brainstorms. By leveraging these diverse perspectives, your teams can generate original ideas that better reach your customers and understand their pain points. 

For example, you can bring UX, product, and marketing teams together to brainstorm the priorities in launching a new product. With UX and product present, marketing teams can better craft materials that speak directly to customer needs. Meanwhile UX and product teams gain insight into how marketing intends to position the product. 

Establish an action plan.

An idea is only as good as its execution. Our own research found that 83% of remote workers came up with a great idea in a team brainstorm but never saw any follow-through. What’s more, 70% of remote workers reported they had an idea that never made it into the notes and, therefore, wasn’t addressed in next steps. 

Creating an action plan that outlines next steps and assignments aligns the team, keeps projects moving forward, instills accountability, and makes it possible to bring ideas to life. Regardless of whether you’re holding a virtual or in-person brainstorming session, when you take the time to record specific next steps and assign ownership, it’s easier to keep teams aligned and more efficiently turn ideas into reality.

Encourage visual collaboration.

We discovered that the best way to improve brainstorming with remote workers is through visual collaboration. This means bringing our teams together into a shared virtual space (we use Lucidspark as well as other solutions) where projects, priorities, and ideas are laid out visually, allowing for easier understanding and quicker team alignment.

Traditional dry-erase boards are limiting and can create a bottleneck to creativity. Virtual whiteboards provide a space where every voice can be heard, seen, and acted on. At in-person brainstorming sessions, a single person is often responsible for recording and interpreting the group’s thoughts, which can slow down creativity and unintentionally discard ideas in the process. Instead, virtual whiteboards provide teams with a clear picture from initial idea all the way through to completion. 

With all of this information organized in one central location, teams can stay on the same page and adapt quickly even if they are not in the same location. Visual collaboration brings together distributed and remote teams in a way they couldn’t collaborate before. At Lucid, we can now provide employees with a way to better work with colleagues across offices in the U.S., Australia, and the Netherlands. Even if someone can’t attend a brainstorming session, they can access the board afterward to quickly review ideas and next steps in a digestible, visual way. This allows teammates to add their own ideas at a later time and maintain team alignment. 

Create a culture of trust.

Do you really want to foster true innovation? Then you need to create a culture of trust. Establishing an environment where every employee feels comfortable sharing ideas facilitates better brainstorming, boosts teamwork, bolsters creativity, creates ownership, and ultimately elevates your corporate culture.

Innovation doesn’t only happen in a conference room. It happens when employees discuss, debate, and ideate in settings both unstructured and structured. Leaders can set a standard of pushing boundaries in brainstorming sessions without fear. So encourage your teams to challenge the process. Encourage them to ask questions. Encourage them to experiment with ideas.

In the new normal wrought by COVID-19, fostering effective brainstorming is at the forefront of staying relevant and driving business success. By following these best practices, your teams can become more creative and collaborative, working together to push forward innovation. And who knows—perhaps your teams end up with not just one but many ideas to keep your company moving forward.

Karl Sun is the CEO and cofounder of Lucid, a software company in Salt Lake City.

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