5 ways to improve creativity & innovative thinking during meetings
We all know that meetings are something that all companies have in common, they are the backbone of every business. Without meetings, companies would find it hard to get anything done efficiently. Working within both the corporate and creative industry I understand that most creatives/designers ideas of an innovative meeting are very different from what our clients are used to. These differences exist because the creative industry mainly surrounds what I like to call ‘fluid business’. Fluid business is the knowledge that repetitively using the same thought methods always delivers the same type of results. Hence creatives aim to adapt their thinking process to avoid habitual thinking. Throughout my work with MCG, there are several habits which I've seen hinder the innovation process within these meetings, so I developed methods of helping my clients overcome these.
I decided to help everyone out by listing 5 of the most significant barriers I have seen limit the ability to develop good creative ideas within meetings. These habits can be found in nearly all sessions across the land even though these could be considered most applicable to marketing or innovative meetings which will result in B2C or B2B brand-related visual output or strategy. All businesses have in common the need to innovate, develop ideas and answer for their business questions/needs - these are insights that can help nearly any business generate better ideas.
1. Stop developing solutions before first establishing what the actual problem/question is
Sometimes the best path is not necessarily the most obvious path, or to put it another way, sometimes the first step is to define the question rather than instantly attempting to answer it. Commonly, employees will immediately set to finding solutions or answers to whatever objective or question that may need resolving, such as “How do we make more money and/or sell more products?". Unfortunately, most employees attempt to develop these new ideas via habitual thinking, hoping to create something new from these old patterns. Rather than jumping straight to the answering process, a better way to start your session would be to ask the question “What is it about our brand that our customers love?” or “Why do we exist as a company?”. By first defining the question or changing the view of the problem/task, means you establish a deeper understanding of the subject matter on which to build idea upon. Using this defining aspect as a reference of which all ideas can be measured against throughout the meeting, keeping things on a consistently steady track.
2. Repetitive meetings and methods = Repetitive ideas
In a worst-case scenario, habitual thinking and lack of innovative ideas during meetings can be due to employees knowing what type of ideas will be rejected or accepted by meeting leaders, afraid that if voiced, specific opinions might leave them open to ridicule or even earn the disapproval of their superiors. Many times employees will walk the line within meetings through familiarity, often getting to the point where staff automatically know that when they are asked to “think outside of the box” what they really mean is “Think within the box, but next to the box wall, please”. By using the same process in all meetings, which generate the same kind of answers no matter what the aim, subject or project means that you are most likely to produce the same type of ideas and outputs every time.
Via the adoption of design thinking techniques and tools, you can start to help employees move outside of their locked-in day to day habits, opening up new paths of innovation and discovery. By assisting this technique non-creative employees learn how to incorporate creative thinking tools such as storytelling, visual thinking, prototyping, ideation, design research and data story development (to name just a few) within their day to day work processes.
3. Expecting crucial decisions to be made by the end of the first meeting
There are several seemingly valid factors about why this happens. People are often busy, managers have lots on with limited time to dedicate to each project due to clashing multi-project timelines, habit. Typically, as long as something which everyone in the meeting can agree is a good idea by the end of the first session, then often it is a case of “the rest can get sorted later by so and so". Also, companies can engage in prolonged or multiple repetitive meetings, meaning long drawn out sessions with too many people giving too many opposing opinions. Due to this, a lot of companies have become custom to running with initial ideas, not taking the time to analyse and develop these ideas further to truly identify its validity before going into development. When generating the first steps of a campaign or strategy, this process might be more damaging than timesaving.
By first taking the time to clearly define the goals of your meeting, allowing more time at the early stages of your project to accurately test and refine ideas, companies will save valuable time throughout the rest of the project framework and develop much stronger ideas.
4. Never confuse personal opinion with brand strategy
To put it straight forward - often decisions are made not on what's best for the brands' intended direction and long term growth, but rather based on professional preference, on concepts that worked well for another company or by dismissing ideas based on the fact the strategy wasn’t useful for a rival brand. Companies will always be more successful by making sure that ideas developed within meetings are an extension of your brands' ethos rather than, ‘just copy what the last successful company did’. When looking to improve innovation, it is essential to always keep the companies Core Creative (the reason for your companies existence) at the heart of the decision-making process.
This is something that employees within the creative industry, instinctively do. Creatives are used to analysing data, developing and testing ideas against the design thinking structure. Designers know this might mean going back to the start many times as ideas are tested, their benefits assessed noted and developed until something beneficial is created from this process. As long as the process is one where plans are being tested rather than just suggested, accepted or rejected, it has been proven to be the stronger method when setting out the foundations for innovation. Entrepreneur Ashik Ahmed goes into more detail about this in his Forbes post ‘The Danger of opinions in Business’.
5. Don't dismiss ideas that seem too innovative without taking time to test their validity.
This calls back to point 4. I am not suggesting that you jump at every crazy idea that gets suggested. Just because something is considered “too innovative” doesn’t mean it's automatically a bad idea. Many ideas and suggestions are deemed an “in a perfect world” or a “that might be too big for us” situation. A lot of the time, these ideas are instantly dismissed without any theoretical investigation.
Using a brands' Core Creative as a guide of which to test ideas against rather than instantly dismissing them, companies are in a better position to be able to take progressive steps forward. Taking time to break down the approach to identify the elements of these ideas, which are applicable and those which are currently impracticable, allows you to determine how they can take steps to bring themselves closer to a situation where big ideas can be made a reality.
By identifying and avoiding these habits within your meetings, you can start to generate ideas and promote generating more innovative answers to business problems. Employees feel trusted with their ideas and can think in a more fluid manner, feeling supported by their company for their intuitive taking. Ideas are looked at for their validity in connection to the projects/brands needs rather than any individuals personal taste. Thoughts are no longer rushed but given time to be tested and appropriately developed, meaning that the foundations moving forward are much stronger.
Mark A Yearwood
My Creative Gurus