Posted At: March 15, 2013 9:30 P.M.
by Kaitlyn Honnold
Sometimes it takes 15 pairs of kneepads to get professionals brainstorming creatively.
“Target wanted to make its kids department more interesting for kids,” said Glenn Karwoski, senior vice president of the Karwoski & Courage PR firm in Minneapolis, Minn. So, Karwoski drove a group of Target employees to a Target store and, to the employees’ surprise, dumped a duffle bag of kneepads on the floor.
“Put the knee pads on,” Karwoski told the employees.
Then, he said, “They ‘got it.’”
“Kids aren’t 5 to 6 feet tall,” Karwoski said. “You have to change the perspective. Look at it the way kids look at it.”
This is just one of many examples of how Glenn Karwoski challenges people to think creatively. In addition to his job as SVP at Karwoski & Courage, Karwoski has been teaching a graduate-level course on the creative process for the past 17 years and owns an innovation consultancy — the Business of Ideas.
Creativity is kind of his thing.
“For me, [brainstorming] is a collision of ideas for a specific purpose,” Karwoski said. “It’s a process that is generative, not always original, but there is a purpose for it and there is a desired outcome.”
Creativity and brainstorming play a huge role in developing a successful public relations plan; as a company, you need to be able to stand out from the millions of choices consumers face daily. Strategy and creativity are not mutually exclusive. There is a need for both when facing a problem.
Charlie Coney, executive director of creative at global PR firm GolinHarris, said brainstorming without strategy is almost useless.
“Brainstorms for the sake of brainstorms are the most counterproductive thing you can do,” Coney said. “Don’t let creative lead strategy – only brainstorm once you’ve got your up-front nailed.”
Once you nail down your objectives and desired outcomes, it’s time to strap on the kneepads and look at your brainstorming strategy from a different perspective.
Coney said one of the biggest misconceptions about brainstorming is the idea that you need to “have a brainstorm” to solve a problem.
“A long walk and a chat over a pint can be just as effective as a well-planned session,” Coney said. “If you do hold a session, spend as much time planning it as running it.”
Karwoski echoed that too much structure is a common mistake when people are asked to think creatively.
“A lot of people refer to creative problem-solving as ‘thinking outside the box,’ which is a term that is really overused these days, but it’s ironic because people think they need a brainstorming session to think of creative ideas,” Karwoski said. “In doing so, they really put that whole process in a box.
“[Brainstorming] can play a role every single day in any kind of work environment. I think that the action or the mindset of generating new ideas is something that we should be doing all the time.”
Karwoski said giving people a structured time to be creative separates creative thinking from their ongoing lives.
“You don’t need permission to be creative,” he said. “We can give ourselves permission. In my class I teach MBA students from companies all over the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. One of the biggest hurdles I see is people giving themselves permission to acknowledge that they are creative. People have such a limited view of what is creative: developing a new technology, or art or music. Creativity can manifest itself everywhere.”
“Birds of a feather fly together.”
Sometimes, Karwoski noted, time is limited and formal brainstorming sessions become necessary, but when they do, variety is key.
“At an agency, chances are that you have people of many similar styles,” Karwoski said, “so you have to bring in divergent types of thinking.
“When we do have more formal idea generation sessions, we try to get a mixture of people,” he said. “We did a project a while back for a city, generating ideas. As a part of the team we invited a cab driver, a local chef and the doorperson from the top hotel. Get a real diversity of perspectives. That’s where you get rich content.”
Such divergent thinking is the basis for GolinHarris’s new g4 business model.
According to a Bulldog Reporter article, GolinHarris’ g4 model “is built around four global teams of dedicated specialists, in contrast to the traditional agency structure of communications generalists in a seniority-based hierarchy. In the g4 model, clients will be served by integrated teams of dedicated experts who offer actionable insights, bold ideas, multi-media engagement and integrated execution.”
These “dedicated specialists” come from one of the four teams: strategists, creators, connectors or catalysts. Coney is the head of the creators.
“Idea generation is a natural part of my role,” Coney said. “Clients want big ideas that change perception/affect reputation, so someone needs to come up with them. Since we changed the structure of GolinHarris to give clients a more specialist offering, the creator team is the one responsible for ensuring our creative output is as good as it can be.
“Ideas are not the sole preserve of the creator team, but we are in charge of facilitating, inspiring and identifying great creative ideas.”
One of these creative ideas is the Bright Collective— an entirely online crowd-sourcing method of brainstorming.
“The Bright Collective was designed to bring together people who wouldn’t normally be in the same place at the same time,” Coney said. “It’s a way of getting chefs, developers, fashion designers and futurologists to think together and solve client challenges.”
Karwoski said there was a time during his consulting work when a CEO told him there wouldn’t be any problems with his team because “they could finish each other’s sentences.”
“I replied, pardon my language, ‘Well, you’re screwed,’” he said. “Where is the creative abrasion? You need that conflict. You need people to challenge ideas and have constructive debate. You use a form of abrasion to polish things – ideas are like that. You need some type of abrasion to polish ideas.”
The Bright Collective encourages that abrasion, but online.
“Interaction is key,” Coney said. “So members are encouraged to [give] feedback/review contributions from other people. Most people in agencies come from similar backgrounds and have similar perspectives. You need to bring disruption into the creative process to generate real stand-out ideas.”
All in all, Karwoski said, “One of the worst things you can do for brainstorming is have one person standing in front of the room at 4 p.m. and they have one hour with the same people using the same technique over and over again.”
“Great minds don’t think alike,” Coney said, “but they can think together.”
Glenn Karwoski writes a weekly blog on innovation (every Tuesday), run in a local business publication: www.Tcbmag.blogs.com/innovations/
Charlie Coney, the Bright Collective : www.ghbrightcollective.com