Jan 042012
 

team members holding signs with question marks on themThe hardest part of building an innovative culture in an organization is getting it started. People aren’t sure what they should or can do. If you sit a team around a table and tell them to brainstorm for new ideas they will look around at each other expectantly or look down so they won’t be called on. But seldom will many ideas come from this scenario.

Instead, consider starting a company sanctioned Think Tank.

Setting up a place and/or a team as a think tank gives permission to say crazy, creative, funny, off the wall things and to follow interesting paths that don’t have to seem relevant at first. In other words, calling a place a think tank frees up thinking and takes off the pressure to be immediately financially productive.

IBM had a program in which certain individuals were awarded fellowship time to pursue what ever research they chose. IBM knew that they couldn’t know all the paths that would lead to great ideas and therefor by not assigning a topic or question, those with fellowships could pursue a passion or whim that might lead to areas not previously considered.

Every organization can create a think tank to free up thinking and make it possible and likely that creative and innovative ideas will follow.

What does it take to start a think tank?

It helps to have a physical space where any member of the team can spend time using brainstorming tools and documenting ideas that pop up. The space should allow large pieces of paper to be hung and left to come back to as needed. Mind mapping, affinity diagrams, drawings, visual thinking will improve the results so the tools need to be there.

White boards that can save and print the results are excellent but not required. Big pads of flip-chart paper or long rolls of newsprint or other paper will work just fine.

Decks of cards with creativity questions or thought provokers are essential for the times when the group gets stuck.

Lots of colored pens and pencils, books about how to mind map, how to draw on the right side of the brain, and how to use visuals will both teach the processes and get everyone comfortable with the tools.

Some groups do better with music playing. If that is true about your team, include a set of speakers that can work from an MP3 player or some other method to provide whatever genre of music stokes the creative juices.

A brainstorming facilitator, either internal or brought in, can start the idea generating process off with a bigger bang. Be sure if you bring someone in your team learns the methods and can continue using the methods learned rather than require that person to be there every time the team meets.

By having a designated space that you call the ‘think tank’, you have tools and a mind-set established that will help the team jump into a creative mode just by entering the space.

About the Author:
Hazel Wagner, PhD, MBA, CMC
Author, Speaker, Consultant, Entrepreneur
Certified/Qualified in DISC, HBDI, Mindex, MBTI Myers-Briggs
hazel.wagner@b9d.comAuthor of Power Brainstorming: Great Ideas at Lightning Speed
http://www.hazelwagner.com
http://www.brainstorming-that-works.com

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  2 Responses to “The Benefits of Starting a Think Tank”

  1. It’s amazing how important physical space can be for being conducive to innovation. I know some argue that it isn’t necessary, but I think it is. I recently had a blog that echoed some of these recommendations.

  2. This sounds like a good idea for nonprofits, especially larger ones that focus on advocacy or social marketing.

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