All my life I have been labeled “creative” but I live with a secret no creative person is supposed to admit… I can’t stand group brainstorming sessions (most of them anyway). I literally cringe at the thought, and generally freeze up in these meetings. I am just not that kind of creative. Mostly because I am also an introvert. My creativity works best when I have alone time to think, process and mull things over in my mind before bouncing ideas around in a group.
But even then the group brainstorming can be nerve-wracking. Do you know how hard it is for an introvert to “shout out an idea” whenever it comes to you? Introverts tend to be deep listeners too. So we tend to be actually listening when others are shouting out their ideas, but then we tend to like to take a moment to process before we speak. By the time we are ready to put our two cents in, another idea is usually on the white board and we are trying to switch gears to listen to that one. This can leave the introverted creative looking, well… uncreative. (In some cases this can even cost you promotions as “team playing extroverts” unknowingly hog the spotlight. But that is a whole other topic.*)
But this isn’t just a problem for the introverts. This kind of process can be a detriment to your entire company. If you don’t learn to accommodate the introverts more you could be missing out on some brilliant ideas.
So what can a company do to help bring out the brilliance of their introverts?
1. Give a detailed agenda
A bullet point agenda works fine if everyone knows the back story of each agenda item, but if you are introducing new items try giving more details.
I.e. instead of:
“• Upcoming Trade Show”
“• Upcoming Trade Show: We would like to brainstorm ideas for giveaways and attention grabbers that can appear in the booth. Please come with some ideas.”
By giving a more detailed description of what you are going to be talking about you give that introverted creative a chance to privately play with and explore some of their ideas ahead of time. That private play time tends to be when their true creativity comes out.
2. Hold a “briefing” meeting before the big brainstorming session Introvert
If your agenda item is too complex to add just a sentence explaining things, hold a “briefing” meeting where you layout the issue or problem and then let everyone go do their research and creative thinking before you come back together for group brainstorming. Your team will come to the actual brainstorming meeting better informed and hopefully with some great solutions already.
No matter what, just get those brains working on the problem before the group brainstorming. A good general rule of thumb, allow for at least one shower in between the briefing and the brainstorming meeting. (Seriously, think of how many ideas you get in the shower.) This will help both the extroverts and the introverts.
3. Directly ask each participant
Remember, “shouting out ideas” for an introvert can be quite hard. Don’t just say, “shout out your answers.” Instead, go around the room and ask each individual in turn what they came up with or if they have anything to add. (FYI – This is where a good trained facilitator can be worth their weight in gold!)
4. Take a “think break”
Once you have all the ideas up on your white board, take a 15 minute “think break” and allow the introvert some alone time to process the ideas and write down their thoughts. And I mean ALONE to THINK. No quick checking emails or starting a little chat with your neighbor. Sit quietly and think on things. Once everyone has had a chance to think and write down some thoughts, have that facilitator call on people to bring out their concerns and new ideas.
5. Use “brainwriting” along with brainstorming
(I found this idea in Psychology Today.)
Basically, you write each idea on a separate piece of paper instead of on the whiteboard. You give everyone a different colored pen (different color pens are supposed to help with accountability), then silently start passing the pieces of paper around the table so everyone can privately add their own ideas and feed off the other ideas already written on the paper. If your group is big, they recommend that once the paper has five new thoughts added to it you “retire” it to the center of the table. Once all the papers are retired, THEN you talk, analyze and expand on the content of the papers. After that everyone makes a list of their favorite ideas (on their own), then the most popular ideas are pursued.
Wow! Can you imagine how that would focus your group and take away some of the office politics?
Not only that, but it helps to make sure no one’s ideas are lost (introverted or extroverted). Which is a good thing, as even an extrovert’s thoughts can get lost in un-facilitated “shout out brainstorming,” for:
“When you brainstorm, people have to wait a couple minutes to allow others to talk before they can reveal their ideas. People will lose confidence and start to think their ideas are unworthy or crazy.”
– Peter Heslin, business professor at Southern Methodist University and author of the study on Brainwriting.
And introvert, don’t just think this means you can hide and not work on yourself. The truth is, we live in a world that really loves, praises and promote extroverted qualities. So some advice for you:
1. Just do it!
It may be out of your nature to speak up and shout out your ideas, but do it anyway. Push yourself. The more you get in there and let people know your thoughts, the easier it will get.
2. Do what you have to do
If you tend to turn six shades of red when you speak up, like I do, wear a scarf or a turtleneck on brainstorming days so nobody asks you, “Are you okay?” every five minutes. Because that can distract from your ideas too. Use whatever tricks you have to do to make sure you are contributing and people are benefiting from your creativity.
3. Become a detective
Did you get just a bullet point agenda? Go to the agenda writer ahead of time and get more details so you have time to work your creative process a bit in private before the big meeting.
4. Ask for some time
If you can, ask for some time to think about the issues that were presented in your meeting. Usually this works well with my clients as I am able to say, “this is really interesting, do you mind if I play with the idea a bit and get back to you?” Or be proactive before your next meeting. Ask, “Can you tell me what projects are coming up so my mind has time to play with things and explore options before we jump in?”
To date, I have never had a client insist that I come up with a solution on the spot. This gives me time to work my introverted creative process and come back to them with some more well thought out solutions, that we can then brainstorm together and make even better.
5. Write down your thought
If all else fails, write down your thoughts. After the meeting, go to your private space, recharge, then start your creative process. When your brilliant ideas are all flushed out, write them down and send them to the team manger. Just say, “I’ve had a little more time to think about what we were talking about and I came up with a few more ideas I wanted to share with you.” The ideas might not go anywhere, but at least you have contributed. And that is the most important thing.
Help a girl out and give your introverts some private think time to work their creative process before or along with your brainstorming sessions. It isn’t going to take that much more time, but it could help yield a multitude of new ideas. Ideas that can then be presented and improved upon with a good group brainstorming session.
Remember, do what you need to do. Hiding your thoughts and creativity is not doing your company or you any good.
*Side note: Did you know studies have shown that the introvert you just passed up for management position would probably make a better leader than the extrovert that got your attention? Introverted managers prove themselves to be better listeners and to think things through before they act, where extrovert can react sometimes too quickly. Don’t get me wrong, extroverts are awesome and can make great leaders too. My point is just that we shouldn’t just dismiss us introverts because we aren’t as visible or aren’t shouting out our answers.