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4 Tips for Enhancing Remote Brainstorms

About Lisa Bodell

Lisa Bodell is a global leader on behavior change, whose skill-building firm has transformed hundreds of thousands of employees from Fortune 500 companies by showing them how to eliminate the complexity that holds them back and get to the work that matters. Her talks offer a roadmap to eradicate the workplace complexity that is killing organizations’ ability to be agile, fast and innovative. In order to experience this trifecta of competitive advantage, organizations must embrace simplicity as a basic operating principle, and Lisa’s content and energy move them to action.

Organizations across America are now considering WFH a permanent reality — or at least the default through 2020 — and re-imagining their approach to everything from onboarding to technology and infrastructure. As a futurist helping companies anticipate and embrace change for more than a decade, I’ve witnessed firsthand the challenges of innovating in times of uncertainty.

Working remotely comes with logistical challenges for nearly every aspect of the innovation process, but idea generation shouldn’t be one of them. From modified icebreakers to virtual white-boarding, explore the proven tips below and apply one or more when you host your next brainstorm.

1. Come with at least one original idea. Most of us know that including a specific session goal (i.e. “identify three new audiences for X product or Y service”) and links to relevant research or imagery is a best practice. In addition, consider asking that each attendee joins the brainstorm with an already generated idea or solution. Solo ideation often leads to a more diverse pool of ideas, according to a study referenced by Harvard Business Review, and it allows the group to invest more time in collectively building out ideas.

2. Warm up with an icebreaker. To change up the usual structure of meetings — and open participants’ minds to creativity — introduce an icebreaker called “Tattoo You.” Requiring about 15 minutes, it’s optimal for 15 or fewer team members in remote settings.

Ahead of your video brainstorm, ask each participant to bring some blank sheets of paper and color markers. (If necessary, order a package of markers for each attendee in advance.) Open the meeting by directing everyone to take five minutes to draw a tattoo of something that represents them.

When time’s up, ask participants to reveal and explain the significance of their tattoo. To randomize the order, consider alpha-ordering by first name or by whoever has the nearest birthday.

This exercise can reveal shared interests and values or provide a future conversation-starter between colleagues. Additionally, since solo activities tend to appeal to introverted team members and the social interactions energize extroverts, the “Tattoo You” icebreaker can strengthen connections between participants with different personality types.

3. Incorporate virtual tools. To encourage engagement, aim for technology that includes every participant through the entire session. Depending on your team preferences, this could mean a shared Google Doc in which attendees participate in silent brainstorming instead of speaking over each other on video conference. Or try a white-boarding app like IdeaBoardz or Miro, where participants can add sticky notes in real time, and vote or comment on their favorite ideas.

4.  Avoid dismissing an innovative idea. From Nokia to Blockbuster Video, plenty of organizations have internally rejected the same idea that would eventually disrupt their industry. To help people consider new ideas instead of reflexively dismissing them, try the technique known as P.P.C.O., which was invented by a trio of professors in 1981.

The first “P” stands for “Pluses.” Instead of immediately poking holes in the idea, critics must first find at least one good thing about it. Even if it’s something like: “I like that neon green is one of the color options.”

The second “P” represents “Potentials.” As in, what are the potential benefits that might result from this idea? For example: “Neon tires…might increase a car’s visibility on poorly lit roads.”

The “C” stands for “Concerns.” Present your issues as open-ended questions, not closed statements. Instead of saying “this idea is too expensive,” share the concern by asking “how could we make this more affordable?” Or, to continue the tire example, replace a statement like “consumers won’t buy colorful tires because they don’t think they’re durable” with a productive line of questioning: “How might…consumers get past their perception that colorful tires are less durable than carbon black ones?”

And finally, the “O” represents “Overcome.” Here’s when you brainstorm ways to overcome your top concern. For example: “Which international vendors could help us find a color that’s chemically compatible with traditional carbon tires?”

The PPCO technique isn’t just about creating an environment where team members feel comfortable presenting rough ideas. It’s about shifting our minds toward the potential in any idea instead of fixating on why it would never work…like colorful tires. Which are, believe it or not, already on the road in China.

Some of the world’s greatest inventions — canned food, maxi pads, microwaves — were born out of tumultuous moments in history. And while COVID-19 is certainly testing America’s ability to move innovation forward, lean on the above approaches to activate team creativity and idea generation in remote settings.


To Learn more about Lisa Bodell contact [email protected]

Derek Sweeney is the Director of Speaker Ideas at The Sweeney Agency. www.thesweeneyagency.com. For 15 years Derek has been helping clients find the right Speakers for their events. Derek can be reached at 1-866-727-7555 or [email protected]