How to Reshape Collaborative Brainstorming to Mine for Creative Inspiration

As Design Thinking continues to change how innovation is achieved by many product and service providers worldwide, the traditional tools and techniques for capturing and incorporating the voice of the consumer are in much need of reshaping as well. Conventional focus groups serve their purpose when planned and facilitated well. Likewise, collaborative brainstorming sessions need to be well crafted and executed to take advantage of what participating consumers, clients and creatives do best.
Our brand of Design Thinking features a tool kit of methodologies including Co-Magination® Sessions that take group collaborative brainstorming to a new and more productive level. Beyond obvious distinctions to many focus group and consumer-centric collaborative sessions (e.g. keeping all participants in the same room(s), and live illustrative capture of seed ideas as output throughout), here are five tips that can make any session more effective, with output that is more prolific and inspiring.

1. Appreciate that Everyone Is Creative, or Can Be.

To some extent, everyone can be creative, especially if invited to become part of a creative team as a unique and valued contributor. Introduce consumer participants as the experts in their individual experiences with the category, products or services you are re-imagining together. They will take pride in contributing their expertise, perspective and experience, as no one else can.

2. Work Together as Creative Peers.

Beyond the clichéd “there are no bad ideas,” we live by “there are no bad voices,” or at least no more important ones than others. Working shoulder-to-shoulder, likely for the first time, clients, consumers and design innovators become empathic and constructive collaborators when there is no perceived hierarchy in the group. This democratic approach will surprise you by the quality of the insight and inspiration it produces, and the passion it is often voiced with.

3. Make it Engaging, Make It Interesting, and Make It Fun.

Participants can all too easily shut down if they feel they are in for two hours of seated Q&A. Get them up, get them thinking, and make sure everyone is comfortable and responsible for contributing. All activities should relate to the session’s area of focus. No frivolous, off-topic chit-chat, “creative squeaky toys,” play-doh or beanbag chairs, unless any of those are relevant to the task at hand. These can be a distraction and a waste of your valuable time together. Through various exercises including role playing, accelerated reenactments, competitive breakouts, mini presentations, among others, get everyone to immerse themselves in the moment, draw from their individual life experiences and check their self-consciousness at the door.

4. Make Sure You Have the Right Creative Talent.

We deploy our Design Innovators into the mix to be inspired by the collaborative output. Although consumer and client participants may be creative, insightful and full of great ideas, most are not able to articulate or visualize what a real world feature, attribute or concept might look or feel like. The talent and experience of your creative team is key to translating spoken whim into viable, visible direction, spontaneously, for iterative enhancement and directional validation.

5. Don’t Be Misled by Personal Favorites.

And finally, don’t put too much weight on participant selected “favorite ideas.” Do however listen to how they defend their preferred directions to learn what pet peeves and inconveniences they want to solve. In traditional focus groups and even in many collaborative group sessions, clients and facilitators are easily tempted to take consumer input as direction. We prefer to use it as inspiration. There’s a goldmine there, if you know what you’re listening for.

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