Dan Plant, Executive Head of Strategy, Starcom is one of our industry’s leading planners and NDA’s new regular columnist. In a career spanning two decades, he’s worked at agencies including PHD, Wavemaker, Mindshare and many more.
Last week I went into the office for the first time in 14 weeks. For the first time in 14 weeks, I looked my colleagues in the eye and had a proper conversation, able to use the full gamut of human communication abilities.
I won’t lie, I loved it. It was a surprisingly enjoyable day, and as hoped, we achieved a lot. Without the barrier of a computer screen between us, we were able to collaborate and communicate so much more effectively and just get stuff done.
In one way, it really emphasised what we have been missing whilst we have been stuck in lockdown. The easy interchange of ideas, the ability to interject without having to take yourself off mute. Being able to read the room and know if people are being quiet because they are being polite, or if they hate your ideas.
No more wondering if your colleagues are “multitasking” or just bored. Just being able to feed off each other’s energy, being able to move around, change the view, point to things. No doubt, we benefit greatly from being in an office with each other.
However, yesterday I held an online brainstorm with my strategy team and instead of comparing it negatively, I realised what an incredible amount we have achieved whilst we have been stuck at home.
Whilst I definitely wouldn’t want to only ever have Zoom meetings, there are definitely some elements of virtual collaboration that I’ll be looking to bring back into the office with me.
We have found one brainstorming technique that consistently works for our team during online meetings, which we call “Yes, AND…”
The technique is very simple. After someone has contributed an idea, the next person’s first words must be “yes, and…”. In the past, facilitators have typically used this as a warm up tool to show the creative power of positivity (and importantly the negative power of “Yes, but…” (which is just a polite way of saying no).
In online brainstorms, it serves a different purpose. Very practically, it overcomes one of the main challenges of online conversations. Because of the lag inherent in video calls, when people start talking, they inevitably clash with someone else who had just started to talk.
This is really awkward in a brainstorm and kills flow and energy as each person spends the next minute saying “no… please… you first”. However, with this technique, the person who wants to speak next simply types “Yes, AND…” into the chat box, so when the original speaker has finished, they can hand over to the next person in line.
The benefits of this technique have been dramatic. The brainstorms have had great energy, with huge quantities of well-developed ideas emerging each time. But in trying to understand why it works we’ve actually learned how to collaborate better in general, and I just wanted to share five of those learnings that I’ll be bringing back to the office with me.
- Listening is just as important as speaking
Too often in brainstorms, people want to be seen to be contributing so they focus on speaking and being heard. However, the best ideas nearly always come when one person improves upon the germ of an idea, and you can only do that if you really listen.
- We should never be afraid of a half-formed idea
The opposite problem in brainstorms is that some people don’t contribute at all for fear that their idea isn’t good enough. However, this technique is all about making OK ideas great, and so no one is afraid to contribute because they realise that every layer is part of the complete process.
- Ideas don’t have hierarchy
Sometimes, in a normal brainstorm, people may feel obliged to back the boss’ or client’s ideas. However, using this technique has really brought home the truth that great ideas can really start anywhere, and all ideas live and die on their own merits, not on the basis of who is the most important person in the room.
- An idea that everyone owns is way more likely to happen
The democratised nature of this technique means that the whole group ends up being involved in the idea. Usually by the end of the process, it is impossible to say whose idea it was to being with. The idea belongs to nobody and everybody. And when everybody owns the idea, they all have equity in it and all have an incentive to see it made real – and to be honest that is what really matters, because…
- An idea that happens is infinitely better than an idea that doesn’t
I think that speaks for itself!