There's something special about putting a few brains and a simple whiteboard in a room that heightens creative abilities, sparks ideas and encourages collaboration. This process was first developed in 1948 by advertising executive Alex Osborn, who called the concept "think up" in his book, Your Creative Power, and attributed its use to the success of his advertising agency, BBDO, which is still prosperous today.
It's been a few decades since Osborn developed his "think up" concept—which is more popularly known as brainstorming today—was introduced to the business world. And while collaboration is still believed to be closely tied to innovation, technology has changed the way brainstorming sessions are held. Instead of physically gathering in a room to share thoughts and ideas and make decisions, today's globalized workplace includes mobile workers and virtual teams who often have to navigate multiple screens, windows and browser tabs to communicate with their colleagues.
Multitasking Might Be Bad for Business
Although the digital age has provided us with limitless possibilities for collaboration, it’s also become so distracting, it’s put ideation at a huge risk. Technology allows people to work on multiple tasks simply by opening up a new browser or loading another program. But the ease of switching our attention from one piece of information to another has made us believe we're capable of multitasking—even if we're not.
The fact is, our brains can't handle the frantic switching back and forth between tasks that multitasking implies. Instead of focusing on all the tasks we need to address at the same time, our brains will completely shift from one task to the next. By trying to multitask numerous activities, we end up taking longer to complete those tasks or are forced to ignore one task in order to focus on another. Stanford researcher Clifford Nass told PBS a few years back that, in fact, "Multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking."
Put quite simply, if we feel as if we have too much going on or we get a bit bored, the Internet has made it easy for us to believe we can multitask—or, as we now know, become distracted with a new piece of information. But this is a brainstorming killer: For true ideation to be achieved, every person involved must be fully engaged with the topic at hand. While this didn't always happen even when everyone was physically together in the same room, these days, it's even harder to stay on task because we have so many more opportunities to become distracted, zone out and begin to multitask.
So how can employers and managers replicate the open, creative meeting rooms of the past using the technology of the present? First, they need to understand the tools and solutions available that will help make people feel as if they're literally sitting across the table from their virtual teammates. Some of the most popular tools come from Google Apps for Work and allow group work to be filed, edited and shared on the go and later viewed by members via a smartphone, laptop or tablet. For meetings and conference calls, Google's Hangouts option can connect as many as 15 people who have the option to share their screens and presentations through their smart devices.
One of the reasons the low-tech whiteboards continue to work so well is that by writing and drawing out every idea, there's a good chance for meeting participants to see the connection and relationship between ideas—a very critical part of brainstorming sessions. To mimic the brilliancy of the whiteboard, Mind Mapping is one solution that allows users to see ideas through diagrams. Experts believe that the ability to visualize these concepts helps collaborators uncover new ideas.
As the virtual workplace continues to evolve and expand (experts predict that 40 percent of America’s workforce will be made up of freelancers by 2020), eliminating the distractions that compel people to tune out or multitask is vital. But just as technology has the ability to distract us from attaining true creativity, it can also provide us with the tools and solutions we need to innovate on levels we never could have achieved during Osborn’s era of “think up.”
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