By Susan Robertson
The short answer? BOTH. Or NEITHER. It’s solely dependent on how the meeting is structured and managed,
A recent study found that online interactions result in less creativity than face-to-face. The reason: when online, people mostly stare at the screen, rather than letting their eyes wander around, which sparks more divergent thought. But the flaw with this study was that the conditions that actually result in creative thinking were not set; not in the online nor the in-person experiments. So, even though the in-person interactions were slightly more creative, neither were very creative at all, in the absolute.
Effective creative thinking requires adherence to specific guidelines. If done casually, without guidelines, it won’t be effective regardless of online or in-person.
10 RULES FOR BRAINSTORMING SUCCESS – In any environment.
- FREE THEM FROM FEAR – It’s very difficult for people to share ideas if they’re concerned about negative consequences. A climate that helps people get past the fear is critical. One key principle is to prohibit any evaluation (even positive evaluation) during the idea generation phase. All evaluation occurs only after idea generation is complete.
- USE THE POWER OF THE GROUP. Build, combine, and create new ideas in the moment. Don’t just collect ideas that people have already had. The building and combining is where the magic happens. Break up into pairs or small groups to encourage even more building and combining.
- GET OUTSIDE STIMULOUS. Asking the same people to sit in the same place and review the same information won’t result in exciting, new ideas. Talk to your customers, talk to other experts, explore what other industries are doing. Have the in-person meeting in a park or museum. If online, mail everyone some dollar-store toys in advance, or play music or show unusual pictures.
- ENCOURAGE THE CRAZY. Something often heard at the beginning of a brainstorming: “Every idea is a good idea.” Followed by a collective eye roll because no one believes it. While it’s not true that every idea is a practical idea, it is true that every idea can offer useful stimulus for additional ideas. Sometimes ideas thrown in as jokes can be the spark that leads to new direction and a winning idea. So allow, encourage, and use every idea, even if only for creative fodder.
- IT’S A NUMBERS GAME. The more “at bats” you have, the more likely you are to hit a home-run. Drive for quantity. Ensure the session is long enough to generate lots. If you only spend 10 minutes, don’t expect great results.
- LAUGH A LOT. Humor stimulates creativity, so let it happen. One easy way – have everyone introduce themselves by answering a fun or silly question. Here’s one used in a session in December – “What’s something you DON’T need more of for the holidays?” The resulting answers were hilarious, and some even started sparking real ideas.
- HOMEWORK IS REQUIRED. Both individual and group efforts are critical for success. Insist on individual preparation. Ensure everyone knows the goal, and ask them to do some homework in advance.
- IT’S NOT CASUAL. Effective brainstorming requires skillful facilitation, which is a different set of skills from managing other meeting types. There must be a designated facilitator, who is NOT the primary problem owner. The role of the facilitator is to objectively manage the process. Ideally, the facilitator should be someone who has no stake in the outcome and can remain neutral to all content. Designate a facilitator far enough in advance that the person has time to fully plan the session, and potentially to study up on how to do it well.
- IF IT LOOKS LIKE A DUCK, BUT DOESN’T ACT LIKE A DUCK, IT’S NOT A DUCK. If you can’t, or don’t intend to, follow the guidelines for successful brainstorming, then don’t call it brainstorming. For example, a meeting that just becomes a stage for one person to spout their opinions isn’t useful. And if a brainstorming is not organized and structured appropriately, everyone will feel how ineffective it is, and they’ll be sure to skip your next session. So, either set up for success, or don’t bother.
- YOU’RE NOT DONE UNTIL YOU DECIDE. Everyone has been in this situation; it’s the end of a brainstorming session, a long list of ideas has been created, and someone volunteers to type up the list. And…. that’s it. There’s no action, or at least none that we’re aware of. It’s demotivating to spend time and energy generating ideas only to feel they went nowhere. Plan time for selecting and prioritizing the ideas during the session. Spend at least an equal amount of time on converging as you do on diverging. Yes, you read that right. If you generate ideas for an hour, also spend at least an hour on selecting, clarifying, and planning. If you leave with a huge list of nebulous, potential ideas, that’s not success. The outcome should be a short list of clear ideas, and a plan for action.
Whether in-person or online, creativity happens when the correct conditions are set. If you’re doing it casually, without guidelines, and without skillful facilitation, it may not be tremendously effective. However, with appropriate focus on the process and environment, and by following these rules, you can effectively generate creative solutions in any setting.
About the Author: Susan Robertson empowers individuals, teams, and organizations to more nimbly adapt to change, by transforming thinking from “why we can’t” to “how might we?” She is a creative thinking expert with over 20 years of experience speaking and coaching in Fortune 500 companies. As an instructor on applied creativity at Harvard, Susan brings a scientific foundation to enhancing human creativity. To learn more, please go to: https://susanrobertson.co/.
A sale is classified as complex when it involves a high degree of risk and uncertainty, as well as when it involves a larger number of people in the process than just the final consumer. As more people are involved in a sales decision, the more complex the sale becomes.
Complex sales also do not resolve in one single interaction. When there are multiple decision points, the real goal is to keep the conversation moving forward toward the next decision. Recognize there are competing goals at play too. Your goal is to make the sale; their goal is to make the right decision based on their wants, needs and budget. Your prospect also might be considering competitive offerings, so keep the conversations on going with you and what you offer.
Psychographics Drive Buying Behavior
In target marketing, there are eight different major variables you can use to define your target audience. When you are looking at a complex sale, the most critical component to understand is the psychological make-up of your prospect. This is referred to as the psychographics of your customer. What drives them and what drives their buying behavior?
To effectively handle a complex sales situation, a deeper consumer understanding that is matched to decision triggers and promotional strategies is required. These sales situations involve an intricate blend of matching your unique offerings with the competing concerns of multiple decision influencers and stakeholders your prospect brings to the table.
Prospects who involve many other people in their decisions are always looking through a different filter. One of the ways they do this is by creating multiple interactions or involving multiple other people. Sometimes these buyers believe they need buy-in or support for their decision from other stakeholders. These stakeholders can be both internal or external to the enterprise. Other times they use other people as a way to more carefully evaluate or vet their decision. Sometimes they will seek approve from others to confirm their decision is the best option. These people can be your best sales allies, or they can be a roadblock to prevent you from achieving the sale and adding them to your long-term customer list.
Decision Triggers Move Sales Decisions
After you gain a foundational understanding of the characteristics of your consumer, during a complex sales process, you need to find out what will trigger your consumer to make the final decision to purchase your product or service. It might be a budget issue, a family member or co-worker. Sometimes it will be the involvement or approval of an outside advisor or board of directors. It might be circumstances in the future causing their concern or hesitation. Whatever decision triggers might influence your prospect, be sure you address them in your sales presentation.
You need to understand what drives your consumer. Also make sure you engage with anyone who is a decision influencer in your consumer’s life. The most effective way to gain this insight is to ask deep probing questions that go beyond the basics on the surface. Think carefully about the questions you ask your prospects. You need to ask questions that provide you with a thorough understanding of the psychological drivers of your prospect. You also need to understand the psychological drivers and decision barriers of the others who influence them who may be involved in the sales process, even if only behind the scenes.
Use the psychographic profile of your typical customer to adjust your sales pitch to leverage the consumer’s emotional responses. Then strategically influence the multiple decision points that you have with your prospect to better leverage the knowledge you gained through the use of probing questions. This process makes your sales effort more professional and effective.
Prospect’s Make Many Decisions in a Complex Sale
If you are engaged in a complex sale, keep in mind that your prospects are making many decisions during the buying process. The first decision is to talk to you via telephone or email. The next decision would be to come in and meet with you. The third decision might be to bring other people into the discussion with you. The next decision might be that they have to bring the rest of their work team or their spouse. They might need to talk with their internal financial advisors or to their professional advisors such as a banker, accountant or attorney. An additional decision might be to narrow down their competitive alternatives.
In sales, your role is to guide them through each of these decision points to give them comfort in moving their next decision toward buying from you. Your goal is to remain the present and focused advisor guiding throughout the sales process. Make sure you provide them with the right information they need as they move through their sales cycle. Recognize you may not be the right fit for them. You need to stay in play long enough to help your customer understand clearly what you offer, so they can make an effective decision that is right for their needs and circumstances.
Combine decision making triggers with your understanding of your consumer’s psychographics to create a marketing message that will give you the strongest platform for successfully completing the sale. The more consumer insight you have, the better your message. The better your message, the greater chance you have of completing the sale.
Once you gain the consumer insight to understand what influence internal psychological factors have on your customer, you will have the foundation to excel at marketing and selling to them. The more you know about what makes your prospect tick, what’s important to them and what they value, the better able you’ll be to incorporate this insight into making your sales pitch more effective.
A strong grasp on the psychological drivers of your target market is the best way to develop your sales strategy. This consumer insight will reduce the amount of time it takes you to go from a cold lead to a closed deal.
About the Author:
Jill J. Johnson, MBA, President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, is a management consultant, accomplished speaker, award-winning author, and Business Hall of Fame inductee. She helps clients make critical business decisions and develop plans for turnarounds or growth.
Her consulting work has impacted over $4 billion worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information, visit www.jcs-usa.com.
Every year in the spring, Amy B., a buyer for a large retail chain store, hosts an Easter egg decorating teambuilding party, where she and a bunch of her suppliers spend an entire afternoon coloring and bedazzling hard-boiled eggs. None of them bring their kids—they do this for the sheer pleasure of out-of-the office bonding, creating interesting and attractive objects. The group is always amazed at the creativity of the resulting eggs. (And in case you’re wondering, no, none of them are artists.)
So why, as adults, don’t people exercise their inner child-like creativity more often? And what is it about the Easter egg party that allows them to so freely generate and express such range and diversity of ideas? There are several factors—all of which also apply to innovation.
Each egg represents a very low commitment. It is cheap in both time and materials to try any idea they think of, so they try lots of ideas. If one doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter—it’s just one egg. Similarly, in your innovation work, you need to consider and try out many ideas, to ensure that only the best ones move forward. As innovation projects proceed through a company, they get more expensive—in money, time, and labor—at each successive phase. Developing Fail Fast, Fail Cheap methodologies allows you to try out lots of ideas early on, while it’s still cheap.
They leverage not only individual creativity, but also use the power of the group. Someone will think of an idea to try, and then toss it out to the group. Then everyone contributes ideas for how best to accomplish it. No one ever says, “Yes, but that won’t work.” Everyone just thinks of ways to help make it better. The resulting final solutions are nearly always significantly better than what the person would have tried originally. In many companies, the “Yes, But” phenomenon is all too common, and can be very damaging to creativity and innovation. Most ideas aren’t perfect when they’re first conceived, but teams act like they should be. They point out all the problems in an emerging idea before they ever attempt to find out if there’s anything good about it. For innovation and creative problem solving to thrive, it’s critical to create an environment that nurtures ideas rather than stifles them, so you get the benefit of the best thinking of the entire team.
They are willing to start over when something clearly isn’t working. One woman brought eggs that were not naturally white; instead, they were brown. It wasn’t clear that dyeing them would work very well, if at all. And, in fact, the first few attempts didn’t work. So, she scraped off all the color on her unsuccessful eggs several times. But when she chose red, yellow, and orange colors and left them in the dye bath long enough, she got some of the most uniquely rich and vividly colored eggs anyone had ever seen. Unfortunately, in large organizations, too many innovation projects that aren’t quite hitting the mark proceed too far. It’s important to recognize when an idea isn’t working, and then be willing to start again when you need to.
Reframing the goal results in more divergent ideas. The woman with the brown eggs also tried other methods of decorating the eggs, not just coloring them with dye. Once she reframed the problem from coloring eggs to decorating eggs, everyone else also began creating the most innovative and unusual eggs of all. This reframing of the problem is a critical step in effective problem-solving and innovation. This is because the way a problem is stated affects the potential solutions you will think of. So when addressing any obstacle, it’s a good idea to question the way the challenge or problem is worded, to see if you can reframe it to get to different and better solutions.
So the next time you find yourself with eggs to decorate—or a challenge to meet—keep these tips in mind to help you think more creatively and come up with more innovative solutions…
- Fail fast, fail cheap. Test many possible ideas.
- Leverage individual and group creativity; “Yes, and” instead of “Yes, but”.
- Be willing to start over when the idea isn’t working.
- Reframe the opportunity to expand your thinking.
About the Author:
Susan Robertson empowers individuals, teams, and organizations to more nimbly adapt to change, by transforming thinking from “why we can’t” to “how might we?” She is a creative thinking expert with over 20 years of experience speaking and coaching in Fortune 500 companies. As an instructor on applied creativity at Harvard, Susan brings a scientific foundation to enhancing human creativity. To learn more, please go to:https://susanrobertson.co/