I often wonder what a brainstorm session will look like a year from now.
Right now, our firm and clients are fully virtual. And while we run as a well-oiled machine, none of our collaboration tools helps us achieve the energy and spark of a great face-to-face, everyone-in-the-same-room-throwing-ideas-at-the-wall brainstorm.
Like many people in the industry, I am in no rush to return to the old normal. But as we are in the business of selling creativity and innovation, this is something we’ll need to figure out. Ideation sessions can’t be all-virtual all the time—right?
If you haven’t already gathered this, I’m a big fan of a brainstorming session. With a good leader at the helm, great ideas can be generated and built upon with incredible efficiency. Even when it’s safe to hold larger-scale, in-person collaborations again, our long-distance workforces may still require some sort of hybrid format.
For me, virtual brainstorms are tough. It seems much more difficult to motivate people in separate environments to really stretch themselves and cover new ground. There is something (is “magic” too cheesy a word?) in a dynamic, intense, in-person brainstorm that drives original thinking and keeps everyone focused. And, whether due to laggy connections, people’s minds wandering or simply the way we can’t read social cues the same online, interruptions can get in the way of people forming and sharing coherent, complete thoughts.
Perhaps the future is in a hybrid approach, with key individuals in person and others dialing in remotely and following up in breakout rooms so the remote participants’ ideas aren’t lost. Maybe we tap different people to get together in smaller groups or on different days. This might generate even more ideas, if you hyperfocus on a few topics rather than trying to cover everything with everyone in one day. Perhaps it’s industry- or role-specific. An engineer friend has told me he’s surprised to find that his product design brainstorms are actually way more productive, as younger team members are less intimidated about speaking up. So a hybrid approach may be ideal for bringing out ideas from those who are less confident about interjecting.
A hybrid approach raises a lot of questions for moderators—how do you architect an engaging, multi-day discussion in which you can be sure everyone is involved and heard? It may take a while before this approach bears fruit, but the trend toward work-from-anywhere and the demise of the 9-to-5 workweek mean we need to figure it out. After all, in our industry, the creativity and innovation born from brainstorming are our bread and butter.
In this article, the ZOOM CMO discusses the future of the workplace. One where virtual/remote is not an afterthought but a primary element. I agree, but I’m hoping we partially slide back to some version of in-person brainstorming where we actually get to socialize in person and generate good ideas together. Imagine that! A non-virtual world!