How to Run a Virtual Brainstorm that Actually Works

Fun fact about pandemic life: Zoom fatigue is real. And not just real, but “widely prevalent, intense, and completely new,” according to Psychiatric Times.

Although we might be avoiding Zoom these days when an email or even a phone call (is it 1986 again?) will suffice, there's one place where video conferencing still shines, and that's the good ol' brainstorm.

Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

When I picture brainstorms of years past, I see images of big tables full of candy and fidget toys and pens and Post-Its galore. Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

Today we’ll talk about some virtual brainstorming strategies I’ve seen work really well. And then hopefully, you’ll give one a try. 

Choose your occasion wisely

brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation.

Back when our biggest workplace woe was a vending machine out of Diet Coke, many of us took brainstorming sessions for granted. But in a virtual world, it's harder to organize, facilitate, and get people engaged.

That's why brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation. (Often what you’re looking for is just a meeting.) Brainstorms are a very specific brand of discussion in which a collective of creative voices, ideas, and opinions are necessary inputs to achieve a valuable output.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions. They're a fabulous enabler of ideas and solutions, so do use them. But do so strategically and with clear intention.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions.

What are some great occasions to host a brainstorming session? Use them when you need to:

  • Add or refine product features
  • Define a path in a sticky situation
  • Solve a complex problem

These and many other scenarios call for a variety of perspectives in which there are no right or wrong answers, but only ideas.

In contrast, many other occasions don’t call for a brainstorm. Like when you need…

  • Approval or alignment
  • Receipt of a message or direction
  • Feedback on a mostly baked idea

These are not brainstorm moments—they're meetings with a much more defined outcome. See the difference?

Figure out the specific problem you want to address

Okay, so you've figured out that your situation calls for a brainstorming session. Now, it's time to make sure everybody who comes to the brainstorm is on the same page before you begin by creating a statement that lays out the specific problem and how you need to tackle it.

Your problem statement might be something like:

We’re losing market share on X product, and we need to define new features to attract Millennial customers.

And here's another example:

This client wasn’t happy with our last deliverable and we need to redefine how we’re engaging with them.

One of your goals is to keep the session short (because fatigue) while maximizing what you take away from it. A clear problem statement allows you to invite your brainstorming participants to get the creative juices flowing ahead of the actual session.

Assign some prework to get things rolling

Now that you've stated the problem or opportunity, it's time to let participants know you’re looking forward to a collaborative discussion and invite them to jot down some early ideas and send them your way.

You can then do some analysis ahead of the session. Did you spot any common themes? Any particular ideas you’re interested in having the group build upon?

Share your findings at the beginning of the brainstorming session. This will give you a strong foundation from which to build.

Get creative with tech 

Love it or hate it, video conferencing technology is definitely your friend in a virtual brainstorm. It allows you to create a purposeful connection amongst participants. But you have to understand how to engage them.

When I used to run in-person meetings with leadership teams, I was always intentional about switching up the activities every 30 minutes or so. I’d facilitate a breakout, and then we’d do a quick poll, and then I’d have people plot Post-It notes around the room, and more.

Keeping things changing and moving is a great way to keep adults engaged. According to the Harvard Business Review: "If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, [people] will retreat into that alluring observer role."

So take the time to learn the features of whatever platform you’re using, and make the session engaging. Some tactics you might try?

  • Use polls to test out early ideas
  • Use small group breakout sessions to create mini-competitions between your participants
  • Use a whiteboard to replicate a poster board people can plot virtual Post-It notes on
  • Use voting to prioritize or stack rank

Of course, talking is part of any brainstorm. But using technology can keep participants from slipping into the shadows without contributing.

Establish norms that serve your purpose

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

A client once told me this story about a packaging company that was struggling with productivity. Their products had to be wrapped in newspaper before being shipped. But often, as employees were packaging product, they’d accidentally start reading the newspaper, losing precious packing minutes. These minutes added up to lost productivity.

One day the leadership team was brainstorming solutions to this distraction problem and one executive said, “Well, what if we just poked their eyes out?”

Of course, he wasn't serious—the question was absurd and meant to add a little humor. But it triggered a new line of thinking. Eventually, the company established a partnership with a non-profit organization that finds jobs for blind people.

Is this story true? I’m honestly not sure. But it’s a great illustration of the importance of free-flowing ideas.

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

As the facilitator, what norms can you put in place to ensure that all ideas get voiced without judgment and everyone has a chance to speak?

Here are a few you might consider:

  • Use the improv rule of “yes, and.” It means that ideas are never knocked down, only built upon. (Don’t worry, they can get voted down later, just not during the brainstorm)
     
  • Use the two- (or one- or five)-minute rule. Ask people to limit themselves to two minutes at a time, even if they need to stop mid-thought (they can finish on their next turn). This challenges people to be concise and ensures that everyone gets a chance to speak.
     
  • Use a round-robin technique. Circle around the Zoom participants, calling on each person as you go. If someone isn’t ready, they can pass. But this is a great way to prevent introverts from getting overlooked.

What other norms will keep you on track?

Close out thoughtfully

Save a few minutes at the end of your scheduled session to check in on the process. How did it feel for everyone? What worked well and what might you skip next time? Do they have other tactics to recommend?

The best answer to “How do I host a great virtual brainstorm?” is the answer that your own participants give you.

When scheduled for the right occasion and with the right people, brainstorms are a fabulous tool. Don’t be intimidated by them. Just be open to learning as you go.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Decluttering for Dummies: Insider Secrets for Organizing Your Overflowing Book Collection

organizing booksclu/Getty Images

Last year changed the way we do a lot of things—especially the way we live at home. Between mandatory shelter-in-place orders, canceled vacation plans, and working remotely, we’re all spending a lot more time inside our four walls than ever before. And with our houses now doing extra duty as offices, gyms, and even classrooms for the kids, there’s undoubtedly no shortage of clutter.

If you’re as sick of the piles as we are, then we bet you’re ready to take action. And there’s never a better time than a new year to rethink your space, declutter, and get organized.

That’s why we’re launching a new series with tips from the pros on how to bring order to every space in your home. First up: all those books you bought to read (and never did) during quarantine. Here’s what the experts say on how to comb through your bookshelves and organize those seemingly endless stacks.

How to declutter your collection

“Clutter is postponed decisions—and that’s true of book clutter as well,” says professional organizer Barbara Hemphill.

“The first step in decluttering books is to determine how much space you’re willing to allot to books,” she says. “To decide whether to keep a book, ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst thing that would happen if I got rid of this book, and then wanted it?’ If you can live with your answer, donate or toss it.”

Get rid of ugly or old books

While some books might be obvious keepers (like the ones you’ll reread or reference later on), you’ll likely end up with a good-sized pile of maybes. For those, Barbara Reich, founder of Life Organized, has this pro tip.

“I look at whether a book is in good condition, and if it’s something I’ll want to display,” she says. “For example, you may not want to display every self-help book you own.”

Donate your unwanted books

Once you’ve narrowed down your pile of keepers, it’s time to get rid of the rest. While you might try to sell any valuable or collectible editions, most other secondhand books won’t fetch a ton of cash—which is why donations can be a great way to get rid of your unwanted volumes.

However, Sherri Curley of The Practical Sort notes that the pandemic has made the usual outlets—libraries, used bookstores, nursing homes and hospitals, consignment stores, and even certain nonprofit organizations—reluctant to handle secondhand goods.

“I caution my clients and readers to save time, hassle, and gas by contacting the organization prior to heading out, to ensure that they are accepting donations and what their current protocol and hours are,” Curley says.

How to organize your remaining books

Arrange your books by color

Photo by Hudson Interior Design 

With your permanent collection of books established, you’re ready to start organizing them. One great way to get started is to group your books by color.

“This works for the very visual client who enjoys their books as a collection, rather than searching for specific ones to read or reference,” says Lucy Milligan Wahl of LMW Edits.

Organize by author

If a colorful display isn’t your style, then you might just consider organizing by author instead.

“This style works best for those who love to read and are looking to be able to access specific books on a regular basis,” says Wahl. “This is also a more time-intensive method, since it should be adjusted and updated whenever you add a new book to your collection.”

Organize by genre

If neither a color- nor author-based organization system works for you, consider a simple genre-based one.

“Organizing by genre works well for most clients, especially when they’re storing books in multiple rooms,” says Wahl. “It helps to match the genre to the space: for example, cookbooks in the kitchen, business and self-help in the home office, fiction and travel in the bedroom, etc.”

This might also be extended to other rooms of the house, like putting your kids’ books in the playroom and sports books in a basement or workout room. Finally, be sure to put aside a few favorite display books to decorate coffee tables, guest rooms, and even bathrooms.

Use leftover books as decor

Photo by M. Swabb Decor + Style

While decluttering and organizing might be adequate for most book collectors, some might just find themselves with a few leftovers that still need sorting. Here are some creative tips from the pros that can help.

“I love using large art books stacked under lamps or small art objects to personalize a space,” says Sarah Giller Nelson of Less Is More. “Using a few favorite books to decorate your entryway will make you happy every time you come home.”

Be creative with shelving

floating bookshelf
Floating bookshelf

Amazon

If you need more space than just a short stack, invisible wall-mounted bookshelves are another great option to display your favorites.

“Invisible bookshelves can be wonderful for adding an accent to a wall without needing to invest in art,” says Wahl. “A window seat can also be a great place for a row of books—perhaps your favorite novels for curling up on a cozy afternoon.”

Last but certainly not least, if it’s more shelving you need, consider this minimalist design—which is great for showing off your book collection, clutter-free.

The post Decluttering for Dummies: Insider Secrets for Organizing Your Overflowing Book Collection appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com