Picture this: It’s Friday at 3:30 p.m., and your boss sends an email to “Meet in the conference room for a brainstorm and bring your best stuff!”

So, you and your coworkers head to the conference room, and your boss comes in to get started. “As you all know, we work with Starbucks, and we need your help coming up with a new flavor of coffee. And go….everyone call out some ideas.”

Some people start calling out ideas, talking over one another. Others start scribbling in notebooks or typing on their laptops. The boss writes some ideas on the white board and then thanks everyone for their time.

Have you ever been in a brainstorm like that? What happens to those ideas? Are they executable in any way? Did everyone even participate?

You don’t have to settle for meetings like this — there’s a better way to brainstorm. At Abel, we call it an Innovation Lab. Next time you are in need of creative ideas and new approaches, try implementing some of the below strategies into your brainstorm.

Encourage Creative Behaviors and Expansive Thinking

Start with group exercises to help everyone get in the right mindset and encourage playfulness. These exercises also help tap into the hidden parts of our brains to unleash big ideas and bring them to life. For example, one person in the group pretends to be a funeral director for expired fashion trends and is interviewed by the other members of the group. Sounds silly, but that’s the point: getting your mind to a place where you can share ideas even if they might seem crazy or impossible.

During a brainstorm, you want the group’s thinking to be big and expansive, and to create a collaborative environment for everyone in the room. Not restrictive, not reductive. You don’t want to hear any “No, because” statements, only “Yes, and.” The team can dissect the ideas you come up with at another time, so even if you know you can’t execute something for a practical reason, you can set that aside during the brainstorm. Why? It’s easy to make a big idea smaller, but it’s not as easy to make a small idea big.

Engage Everyone on the Team

Since teams are often made up of both introverts and extraverts, as well as people with different learning styles, it’s important to employ different methods to engage everyone in a brainstorm session. At Abel, we typically break teams out into small groups of four, with one member acting as a moderator to focus on listening and ensuring ideas are fully understood and built out.

Each group records their ideas in a T-Sheet format, a system that includes a catchy title, a three-to-four-sentence description, and a drawing to illustrate the idea. Although it sounds simple, this format results in recording each idea in multiple ways, which helps people of different learning styles remember the ideas.

Employ Lateral Thinking Tools

A successful brainstorm will begin with a challenge question (the problem you’re trying to solve) and include success criteria, so the group understands what they are trying to accomplish.

Once the challenge question and success criteria are established, you can conduct some exercises to help the group gain lateral thinking tools. Lateral thinking refers to the ability to “think outside the box” to come up with creative solutions in a non-linear way. It may be surprising, but sometimes your own expertise and experience is your single biggest barrier to innovation.

For example, in most workplace scenarios, a senior employee with 20 years of experience will have advantage because of their deep knowledge and expertise. But brainstorms are different. What about that brand new employee who’s new to the industry? They could throw out ideas and ask questions that are simple, yet brilliant.

Lateral thinking tools can help erase our preconceived notions (if only for the moment) to help us tap into our creativity and come up with the next BIG IDEA.

Activate Your Big Ideas

Once the group has generated a good amount of ideas, it’s time to choose the top ones. The next step is the selection process. One way to do this is to employ the passion-meter, a method for participants to vote on the ideas they are most passionate about.

You can hang your T-Sheets generated earlier in the workshop randomly around a room. Participants take some time to walk around and review the ideas, and then they put stickers on the back of the three ideas they like the best.

Tonja Paylor, Director of Marketing and Communications at Medstar Montgomery Medical Center, invited Abel to facilitate an Innovation Lab to help her team come up with new strategies promote the hospital’s OB/GYN practice as a world-class service.

“What I liked about [the Innovation Lab] most is that through this approach we started with what we wanted the end result to be,” she said. “Rather than looking through the lens of where we are today, we were able to look at the future state of where we want to be as a company. And from there we came up with limitless possibilities. It was a great way to brainstorm, because we didn’t go in feeling like we had constraints. True innovation is that; it’s coming up with ideas that maybe don’t even exist today. It definitely helped us free our thinking and broaden our approach to new ideas.”

Is your organization facing a challenge or opportunity that needs an innovative idea? Drop me a line at gina@abelcommunications.com to see if an Abel Innovation Lab is right for you.