Ep 36: Serious Social – How to effectively brainstorm remotely 

Join Colin Jacobs, MD of immediate future, in this episode of Serious Social as he gets into the nitty-gritty of effectively structuring a brainstorm whilst working remotely and sharing the lessons we’ve learnt ourselves in the past 8 months.

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Full Transcript

Welcome to the Serious Social podcast, created by the straight-talking social media experts at immediate future.

As a creative and collaborative team, how can you make virtual brainstorms really work for you? In this episode, Colin Jacobs tells all!

Colin Jacobs

Good morning. Welcome to serious social live, we’re talking brainstorming this morning.

Now whenever we start shaping dialogue for a live whether it’s our own serious social lives, whether it’s the broadcast that we do for our all kinds of big brands, even when we’re going into the studio, we always start with the questions we start looking at that area of resonance that triggers with audiences and where the specific need for information exists, and quite apparent that when we started talking to people last week when I was looking at the topic of brainstorming, the more we shared some of our thinking around the pain and issues we’ve experienced as an agency brainstorming remotely, the more it became apparent that industry nationwide we’re all feeling that pain point too. So normally we would create a list of questions, and then we would filter them down to the optimum kind of two or three questions and we would look to share our insights around them. And if you do that, and you get a reasonable answer inside you’re looking at about 10-minute interview. I’m not going to be filtering the questions today. We’ve identified 13 of them I’m going to read them out in a moment before going back in and answering them. Um, but if any of you, when you hear this, it triggers thinking and challenges questions issues that you’ve been experiencing this year with your brainstorming remotely, throw the question into the comments and I’ll do my very best to answer it.

I’m mindful we’re short on time this morning, not about sort of 10 to 15 minutes I’m gonna do my very best to answer as many questions as I can. Anything I don’t get to. There’s a blog article coming out on Monday morning, or I may do a follow up in a couple of weeks time but as marketers, we all love brainstorming. We love that cultivation and collision of ideas that come together and then erupt into marketing outputs and then spills over into all the things we do brainstorming, is the trigger to all that happening and brainstorm should be a positive experience, but certainly speaking about if, when we moved remotely back in March, we’ve struggled with it. We haven’t had the same enjoyment. So we started looking at some of the problems, and we ideated what the solutions were there were other challenges and issues that came up, and frankly, we stumbled on a solution. And that’s where I’m going to be starting this morning but let me quickly run through your questions and organise them into three topics are planning participation and results so what do you need to do before your remote working brainstorm.

The experience bit of in brainstorm which should we be doing and then what do we need to be doing post brainstorm run through the third I’ve got 13 questions, probably six key points to share with you, and then a few ideas tactically that you can deploy on the planning side.

This is what you asked us.

How can you switch people on meeting seem to take a bit of time to get going and participation isn’t always volunteers resume, um, should there be a structure that’s different to a face to face brainstorm. Yes, there needs to be a structure yes it does differ we’ll come back to that in a moment. Planning and prep time seems to have gone out the window and I find it difficult thinking on the spot when somebody says brainstorm now, you’re not alone. And the planning that is key. Will segue back, and how can you handle notetaking in a remote scenario we will get to that. Then on participation on the experience side of it.

People have asked, How do you bring the fun clearly many of you were missing that you’re not alone. We’re not seeing or feeling the same energy as experienced in face to face brainstorms can we inject energy, you can. I’m going to be sharing the first example I’m going to be sharing with you, something we stumbled on by accident. Belle Lawrence came up with and it has transformed this for us so we’ll share that with you in a moment

Can you protect against losing people on video calls we’re seeing the wrong type of digital disruption and losing people to email and instant messenger guilty, Your Honour, I’ve done it myself. It’s awful. It’s disrespectful to your colleagues, isn’t it, and we’re going to give me some advice on how to police that. And I don’t think it needs a lot of policing, it just needs to structure it to get upfront, most people will get on board with it. We’ve got so much digital fatigue going on. So, I think people will happily switch off some of those tools for half an hour if asked to do so. It feels like we used to build ideas naturally within a room together, but over tech, we rely on a good idea being found and then we stick with it. Yeah, I can relate to that.

And then, I should you limit, this is brilliant question is should you limit the number of participants on a remote brainstorm short answer Yes, I will give you the insights on that very shortly. And how do you encourage people to join using video? Is it important, frankly, if anyone is joining a video call or not switched on their video? I would eject them from the meeting, and then be imprisoned and showing you the face to least they do, but will give you a bit more detail around that rather than me just saying it check them banish them. It’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? No on the results side of it. Two questions came up. Is it possible to make remote working brainstorming more impactful yes we’ll get to that? And what should be happening after the brainstorm? can we have an action plan? Yes yes yes yes, we will get to that. Now I said, some of the answers. We came up with by specifically looking at problems and challenges, others, hands up we stumbled into them. And that’s where we’re going to start this morning. The first question on how can you switch people on the meeting saying seems to take a bit of time to get going and participation in the way volunteer. We’ve got into Groundhog Day anyone like us, who has been working from home since March will be feeling this with the free consumer using video calls. Now I’m quick to not want to moan about this too much because I would much rather be working from home using the tools and not working, and too many of our friends and industry have been affected by this awful virus. So I just want to get the balance right I mean our thoughts are with anyone that’s not able to work right now but for those that have been, you have been feeling a bit of fatigue, when we broke up for a meeting you are forgiven for just going through the motions. months ago. We all turned up for a morning meeting at a Friday morning meeting we have them all agency every single morning and randomly, un-prepped, not expecting it. When I joined the meeting, Belle Lawrence was playing Spotify, that whole track was played so we listened to it for two to three minutes, but when everyone joined because of the unexpected nature of music playing everyone was laughing smiling, the team started dancing in their seats. The output in the meeting that followed, was so positive and upbeat because people were energised. Now that’s called an icebreaker anyone that’s worked in sales marketing for any length of time will recall back in the day icebreakers How do you meet people, how do you engage them. We’ve all been into shops overtime when clerks come up to us and say can I help you, we’ve got, oh, just looking through these responses are behavioural psychologically we get into a pattern of behaviour and we’ll answer something or do something without naturally thinking an icebreaker is meant to knock us out of that rut and get us thinking, and what Belle Lawrence stumbled on was a great way of delivering an icebreaker for the entire team. And it took people out of their routines and brought them in the moments and the quality in the meeting. Some random things you try one word, Katie I won’t mind me sharing with you I was talking to her a couple of days ago and she reminded me that one of the random things she tried recently was Simon Says he rightly wanted to get people out of their chairs and participating. Um, but it didn’t quite work. So, so it didn’t resonate on this time it says a bit, but stick with it. I’ve been like brainstorming and random ideas try them they’re not all going to learn, but when you land on the thing that’s right for you, I promise you it will make a difference. Every Friday morning, the team now listens to music in the morning. I had a client call this morning so I missed it, I got it I missed it.

Next question is, should there be structure and does it differ from face to face brainstorm so this one’s really important and it probably helps answer some of the other questions, you need to give your team time before a digital brainstorm and characteristically, there are dominating personalities people like myself who, if we don’t check ourselves we can wrongly influence other people in a brainstorming room it’s really important. I would police myself or the team police me to make sure that I’m not wrongly. And again roughshod over everyone else’s ideas and wrongly shaping them to my way of thinking, it’s easier to police that in a physical environment, but digitally. One of the ways you can protect against it is by sharing the challenge on the questions that you’re addressing in your brainstorm early, or four days out, and if possible assign different questions to different people. Now, some people take time outside a crowd to cultivate ideas I’m absolutely not a problem at all. Many people weren’t like that some of the best ideas come from people being isolated given time to question, but we’re all making lots of notes at the moment in pattern turning pages. Make sure your team take the questions and put them, even if they’ve got a tiny workspace, get them to put their brainstorm question on a post-it note I mean that’s one from my daughter, lovely little message but take a post-it note, and then position it somewhere you can see it, whether it’s your pad the screen over the ensuing four days, you’ll be thinking about that challenge or a problem. And you will naturally start to come up with ideas. Don’t force yourself to do it in the moment but make sure everyone comes to the brainstorm with thinking and the first thing you’re going to do is get them to share that thinking why we’ll get everyone speaking, it gets everyone sharing without going to characters like me. Everyone gets to voice ideas to come out, and then you can stop filming. I’ll come on to the build that in a moment. And I should say, part of the reason they’re up on the wall is it because I’m untidy, that they’re actually the notes for this very session I’ve been working on just to show you that I do practice what I preach. It helps me come to a thinking and planning and prep time, I really important four days out don’t rely on people thinking on the spot.

How do you handle, how do you handle note-taking – a bit like taskmaster you need a Greg Davis type character I’m not saying you will be a comedian but assign one person to take notes, and it’s entirely up to your business whether you do that in the traditional method of Word, Excel pad whatever, or whether you use one of the new interactive boards. I would urge caution about adopting new tactics and assuming that they’re going to stick within the business straightaway. We do use collaborative boards and they’re brilliant because you can go back to them you can review them you can see the ideas of the posting, but if it’s a new behaviour, clicking into a digital board, then basically people will struggle to do that you’ve got to think about that behaviour change. And if you manage that interactive boards are great, but equally. If you want to do it old school word is absolutely fine if that’s how your business run just makes sure every idea is captured, don’t just capture the good ideas, everything’s got to go on to your notes but one person taking it.

Let’s jump into participation. And how do you bring the fun with the music one is one example, but as leaders as senior people, and you’ve got a duty to lead. Now there is a great book I read, years ago. Probably 20 years ago I first read this called choose your fishnets. It is about a fish market in San Francisco replaced the people go to buy fish, but they, they go there because they have fun. The staff actually throwing fish through the air and catching them in bags, there’s real theatre within the basic elements of buying fish. So people weren’t going to the supermarket or the grocery store, as they call it out there. 715 grocery stores. The point is, people would go into the market because people were having fun, but the staff had to choose their fitness, they had to choose to be happy. So as leaders. We’ve all had tough days the pandemics got to resolve we all missed those interactions we missed being around people, but a certain number of people at the brainstorm has got to bring the energy and if you do that, it will ripple around your team it’s really infectious like the member of staff that’s always laughing but you end up laughing with because they just got a brilliant love positive energy yield positive energy, see there’s a GT for two or three people to bring the energy and it will rub off on all of you. We’re not seeing or feeling the same energy as experiencing face to face brain brainstorms can we inject the energy I think we’ve covered that with the music. People leading haven’t defined time be positive around it cracks jokes have those icebreakers, can you protect against people that begin to losing people on video calls we’re seeing the wrong type of digital disruption, emailing, we’re all guilty aren’t we, etiquette to meetings, make people switch it off. I promise you, digital fatigue is touching at all. Nobody will object to switching off their email Outlook or an instant messenger slack whatever for half an hour. I dare say most of your team will find its respite at the moment. So they’re kind of being shut away from distractions. And it means more focus will be in the room as well. So, to police that brainstorms has been a positive experience it feels like more ideas are shot down, compared to when we’re in the office. Yeah, we felt this, people shooting down ideas. Excuse me, are shooting down ideas that believe it or not they’re not being maliciously negative, and they’re not being a negative Nelly.

Some people filter for the brief, and they do that too early in your brainstorm. It’s about when and wild and high volume ideas, totally random just getting as many ideas out there as possible, a brainstorm is not the time to filter. It’s a smaller team. After the brainstorm. They will apply the filter. And the reason they’ll do that is some of the ideas will be at 90% they’re already they will live the bridge. Other ideas might only be 30% right, but with a bit of tweaking and bit of evolution, building and adding to them, they might turn into 7080 90% patches. If you’re filtering in the brainstorm firstly you’re bringing negativity and judgement and you never want to brainstorm. But second, you might be kicking an idea away, which you can turn into an 80 or 90 percenter and it would be a smashing concept. If you bent it right. So the brainstorm is weird and wonderful going filter no negativity. It feels like we used to build ideas collaboratively, when in a room together over tech we rely on a good idea being found, and we stick with it.

Well if you use the post-it note idea ahead of time, everyone bringing an idea or a tactic you can use is called “Add to it “when everyone shares their idea, somebody else has to build on their idea within the room. Now we used to do this on paper pass it forward if we were in the room to get it right and I did, and then I would move it to the right and then the next person would have to build my idea we keep doing that until we run all around the room, we tried out the full story of ideas and I promise you they are weird they’re wonderful, but they spark other thinking around what would it be right. I’ve been in a brainstorm where one of the stories, said about putting people on the moon. I won’t mention the brand because it wasn’t a client if, but the, the output was artwork around, I’m landing on the moon and the correlation between moon and earth and it was a beautiful piece of artwork, we would not have landed on that, if we didn’t have this random story so weird wonderful boy you should you limit the number of participants on a brainstorm. This is such a good question. I run workshops for 10 2200 people like presenting the thousands of people. I do live broadcasts, I’m on TV. It doesn’t faze me. But in a brainstorm you need participation and you need voices to share. If you go with that sort of five to seven. It’s really difficult giving everyone and time to share their ideas and not lose some people in the room, smaller numbers sort of 234. Like I said, up to about five or seven. It’s really easy to get everyone participating and hold on to the energy that is being shared if you go over those numbers, you’ll lose a little bit. So if you’ve got a big team, break up into two or three different brainstorms around a topic rather than doing a really big brainstorm for 2030 people, smaller groups will be more impactful, I promise, though. Excuse me probably talking a lot this morning, which is why can you go to the water.

How do you encourage people to join using video I tell them, simple as that. And I think Belle Lawrence and Katy Howell would say the same again we demand it and you know what, when people do it the more they participate. The reason they went on the video is rather shy. Like work with them up on their shoulders, or they’re trying to hide work that they’re doing and that’s a distraction because they really aren’t that busy. I want to brainstorm a nice way Don’t be discriminatory with it. Excuse me.

On the results. is it possible to make remote work in brainstorming is more impactful. I think we’ve covered a number of tips that you could go away and try and you tell me, has it made your teams more important, more impactful I’d love to hear from you. All I can say is that some of the tips we’ve, we’ve shared, we live and breathe them, and they’ve made a massive difference to us connecting on over video, and what should be happening often branch on action phone really good question. I’m a real ideas person and one of my limitations is then taking that big thinking and transmitting it into action. I’m blessed I have a brilliant team, people around me and the team, the force that to happen. But lots of ideas come out of your brainstorm the weird and wonderful. Give your team a few days to carry on, adding to the idea so if you’re using that collaborative board or the notes, give them a defined period with which they can still add to the information to have a time-bound on it. Some people were taking evolved idea away at that closure point have a smaller team who filters for the brief that finds the right ideas and then starts bending and tweaking. Now you might have to have a follow-up rates brainstorm around some of the short, shortlist ideas, I guess a better for one of a better phrase to make sure they’re right for the brief. And that’s absolutely okay, but make sure there’s a tangible activity connected from long wild and weird ideas to filtering for the brief, and then creating your action plan around your project plan for development, whether that’s in-house or using external partners, and make sure that you allocate owners to the task for the time that they’re not everything has to sit with you. You can project manage it but you assign ownership of all the different tasks to people. And then that collectively with your brainstorm punch and make the magic come to life.

Six points, I want to land with you and you’ll see that these resonate with some of the points. We two more minutes and we wrapped up – brainstorming is a negative free zone no judgement or filtering happens. Just let ideas fly because the point to wild and random is good. It’s so, so important. Build ideas, add to it. When people come in with an idea that gets taken over later. Make another member of staff, add to it and do that across your entire team, stay on topic. This is, again, your, your taskmaster owner your note taker completes this, make sure you’re staying on topic answering the challenge or problem that you need, rather than drifting off into coffee catch-up conversation so so important in physical brainstorm critical on a digital brainstorm one conversation no talking over each other, give everyone a voice and be visual youth prompts the post-it note that I’m mindful, I’ve rambled on for way longer than I should have I wanted to try and answer the question to thank you for the comments. I’m Sally, I’m sure you probably could get your team dancing, I am the archetype or hate dancing type personnel so about a beer so I’m with you. I’ve gotta say, I was dancing in my chair, it makes a difference but don’t warn your team that you’re going to do it surprise or shock them, jot them into life. Bring the energy, have some fun and let us know whether these tips have helped your team brainstorm.

I’d love to hear from you’re really weird and equally, if there are any questions you’ve thought of ping us a note, I will happily pick up on this after the event. I’m going to shut up now let me get back to today’s thank you so much for joining us this morning.

If you’re after more know-how to break the social boring, subscribe now and check out the show notes for links to our website and social profiles.

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