Deep Dive: You're Brainstorming Wrong! Essential Frameworks for Virtual Teams

In this interview, we chat with Will Hong from A Little Bird about his thoughts on brainstorming, a great framework for successful brainstorming, and what that means for a virtual team. Actually, what that means for any team, especially yours!

Deep Dive: You're Brainstorming Wrong! Essential Frameworks for Virtual Teams

Welcome to your not-so-typical deep dive session. Be prepared to roll-up your sleeves and get out of your "seat" as we engage in a live, virtual brainstorm together. Companies everywhere are attempting to brainstorm remotely to solve problems, create campaigns, or generate better ideas with their product teams, but the vast majority are doing it wrong. We will go over why most brainstorms fail and how to overcome common pitfalls. Most importantly, you will learn and experience essential frameworks that will help you run effective virtual brainstorms for your organization. You will not want to miss out on this fun and interactive deep-dive session!


About the Expert

Will Hong

Will’s passion for stories brings a contagious energy to all of his work. With a unique human-centered approach, Will has developed inspirational brand strategies for Fortune 500 companies and innovative start-ups. Throughout his career, he has worked with brands that include TNT, Cartoon Network, Oakley, Chili’s, and Nexgrill. Will is currently the Head of Strategy at A Little Bird, a brand agency based in Los Angeles. He’s an Alfred Hitchcock fan, a cigar enthusiast, and a design-thinking evangelizer. And for the record, Will was doing (horribly awesome) dad jokes before he became a father to two incredible and powerful daughters.


Full Transcript

George Thomas 0:00
Hey, inbound attendees, it's your boy George B. Thomas. And we're back with another episode of inbound speaks where we speak to inbound speakers who speak at inbound about inbound. Whoo wee, my goodness, hey, here's the deal. I'm super excited because a lot of people are virtual, a lot of people are part of teams and a lot of people are well confused on what they should do around that whole subject. But before we dive into the deep end of the pool, let me go ahead and run that bumper so we can get into the good stuff. All right, I am here with well, and we're gonna be talking about wills inbound 2020 session, which is deep dive. It's a deep dive people, which why I might have mentioned the pool a little bit ago. You're brainstorming wrong, essential frameworks for virtual teams. So before we get too far into this, we'll I do want you to kind of start from the very beginning back when you are born. No, actually it's not when you're when you were born. But I do want you to take a few minutes to talk to the inbound attendees about who you are as a person, individual business, things like that, and kind of what makes you tick?

Will Hong 1:05
Sure thing. Thanks, George. And this is super exciting for me. It was a dark and stormy night when I was born. But I'll fast forward to who I am. I'm currently the head of strategy at a little Berg. We are a brand Services Agency here in LA, sunny California. And the question of what makes me tick. You know, I gotta say, the power of ideas. And that's something that I personally believe in and something that our company has grown to believe in over the years. What ideas can do and we're passionate about that. And that's why we're super excited to speak a little bit more on that during inbound this year. Yeah,

George Thomas 1:42
I love ideas. I love creativity around ideas. It's funny because one of the things that I feel personally is a little bit of a superpower is the ability to just come up with ideas out of nowhere, whether it be content creation, working with folks, whatever it is, So when you think about this, though ideas and kind of people brainstorming wrong and and virtual teams, which could be a lot of different conversations, somebody might look at that title and go, No, I'm not sure if I should be in that room or not. So let's just take a couple minutes to talk about who should be in the room who should attend your inbound 2020 session, and why should they be in the room?

Will Hong 2:25
Sure. That's a great question. And, you know, the obvious more not obvious, but the bigger group of people that this will appeal to our marketers, for sure, perhaps other agency people. Because a lot of you know, brainstorms tend to be associated with creative work, right. And but I will point out, though, this is not just for creatives. And this is kind of where the brand landscape in general is going. I think a lot of people in finance and payroll, in business development, in HR and how you develop your employees. department today needs ideas. We need to keep moving forward in that sense. So this framework is really designed sure creativity and creatives that allow brainstorms and things like that. But I think it's really open to any I guess, not professional, but your expertise in whatever you're doing. We all need ideas. And one of the things I will say when it comes to brainstorms, unfortunately, most brainstorms are done wrong. And there's been a lot of studies over the over the years, Harvard Business Review actually came up with with a study that basically proved that brainstorming doesn't work. brainstorming actually comes out with fewer ideas, and those have less quality. And there's been a lot of studies in that sense, but I don't I believe that brainstorms can work. We're just doing it wrong, right? So we need to have the correct frameworks. We need the correct process in the methodology. Because I also believe in the power of collaboration and if we can learn from past examples of how these great ideas came to be, and put those learnings into a framework, I really believe that we came up with something that can make your team thrive with ideas, but not just these kind of crazy big ideas, but actual implementable ideas that you can execute right away. That's going to make a huge difference your business.

George Thomas 4:20
I love this because a I'm a big fan of collaboration. I totally agree with you. I think that if you set it up in the right way, brainstorming can be a magical thing. And I really lean into what you said that it's not necessarily all about the creatives that used to kind of be this Whoo hoo thing that creatives ran off in the corner and did. But as a company, especially now more than ever, we live in a space where it's about always learning and always growing. And the way that you can learn and grow the fastest is by getting a group of your, you know, cohorts and workers together, and start just kind of like Letting the synapses fire off in what is the bigger brain of your company? So I love this. Now, with that said, we don't want to give away the whole forum because we want people to attend your inbound 2020 session. But is there one tip that we can kind of lean into or start to leverage to not do it so air quotes wrong, as we're kind of trying to do brainstorming between now and your inbound 2020 session?

Will Hong 5:27
Yeah, that's a great question. And you know, we have six kind of foundational rules, and I'll just bring up what I believe is the most important one. And, you know, the art of listening is a difficult thing to do in general, just in life, but especially when you're collaborating, and especially in a brainstorming situation, being able to number one, be open minded, but by being open minded, listening to whoever sharing an idea, and focusing purely on that person's idea first, before you move on to your own. A lot of That happens is you're in a brainstorm with your co workers. And what you're What are you most worried about? What am I going to contribute? What am I going to say? Are people gonna think I'm being silly? Are people gonna judge me for thinking this one idea that I'm gonna bring up? Oh, yeah, I'm only gonna have like one or maybe three opportunities to speak up, you know? So you're worried about this. And what ends up happening is, everyone's closed off when someone's sharing an idea. And at the end of the brainstorm, you either have 10 different ideas that have no legs, or group thing happens. And everyone just kind of follows whoever's the most dominant, the most passionate, the most energetic, sometimes the most creative, right? And you end up following that idea, and that's why we need different kinds of sets. But going back to your question of what's the most important thing I think it's the art of listening and proactive listening that

George Thomas 6:52
Yeah, I totally agree with that listening as a as it's lost on a lot of people. And what I love is actually You are talking Well, what happens in my brain when I go into these, like brainstorming or collaboration Sessions is everybody talks about having an open mind. And this is gonna sound weird at first, but stick with me people, I actually try to go into these sessions with two things. One, zero agendas, I don't want to have an agenda for the meeting, right? And with zero agenda, I actually tried to have an empty mind. And I let the meeting kind of fill up my mind with the things that are happening around with me and then very much like a river or water or whatever visual you need to take with us, as I allow myself to kind of go down this very visceral journey mentally, as I'm listening to the people that are taking part in this session. So again, if you can kind of have an empty mind that's allowed to flow with zero agendas, and leave your ego at the door. Maybe that's three anyway. Well, it isn't my talk. It's your Talk but I love this. This this topic. I love it. Yeah, I love this. I love this topic. So what are what's one major hurdle that you have seen that really stops companies in their tracks from being able to do brainstorming in the right way other than listening cuz we know we got to do that but like, there's got to be something out there that you've just seen. It's like, Ah, man, forget it. You just don't even do it. Like there's this hurdle and you got to take care of that first.

Will Hong 8:30
Sure. Um, you know, there are a lot of hurdles. But the one thing that stands out the most, in my opinion, is people think that a brainstorm or is made to get come up with that one great idea, right? Does that aha that comes out of nowhere like oh my goodness, that was amazing. And they come in expecting that that puts pressure on auto participants again to figure out ways my idea good enough to do this but brainstorming is really one tool of many tools and a process to come up with an idea that you can execute. And that's actually meaningful and sometimes disruptive. And the way you do that is each idea that you're contributing in the brainstorm. They're really in the way I see it as their stepping stones getting to that right idea. And we need to have an agreement of sorts, right, with everyone participating, saying, we're going to work together to get there. And building on that. And I think once we have that shift in our perspective and our mindset going into brainstorms, that's really the definition of collaboration, first of all, right, but it frees everyone up, there's no pressure. And it's about this free flow, right. As you're saying, when you mentioned the empty mine is it's seeing where it's going to go and contributing your little stepping stone, because every stepping stone whether it's big or small, is going to help the whole team get to that answer. And that's what makes it exciting.

George Thomas 10:00
Yeah, I love the idea or the visual of the stepping stone and and I gotta be honest, I'm gonna share a dirty little secret that some of my best ideas when they hit the internet, were what I thought were my worst ideas when they actually hit the paper. And so there there is really no way to know if you've arrived at the mecca of idea, right? And so when I think of brainstorming, it's a matter of like, man, let's just throw the stuff on the wall. By the way, talk about wills wall back there, people throw stuff on the wall, right? And then be able to add at different times choose what was maybe an okay idea. And then all sudden, it becomes the magic idea because it's the right idea at the right time. That's something that we have to think about as we do this. Well, I'm super excited for your session. This is definitely one that I'll be attending because It is right up my alley. I want to hear more. So here's the thing. You get done with your talk. The audience stands up, they give you a raving round of applause. Of course, you have zero clue because they're in their bathroom in their living room or their home office, but you're at home, and you're hitting the applause button on your phone app or on the, you know, the one that we buy from Amazon, and you're like, Yeah, we did it. What's the one thing the big takeaway that you hope that your audience will grab and run with after attending your session?

Will Hong 11:30
Yeah, you know, that's a great question. And that's something that is very important to me, too, is, you know, we're going to go through we're gonna do a deep dive as a session says about the intricacies and how the processes and the methodologies of coming up with the best kind of brainstorm and how to run it and how to moderate it and get ideas out of people and all that. But going back to kind of what we started talking about in the beginning, is I want people to leave being inspired that any idea no matter what idea it is, it could be a mark In campaign, it could be a new product development line or it could be how do we make payroll next month, right? Or it could just be something to you it might be meaningless. But what I believe is every one of these initiatives, every idea that you work on has a purpose and has a meaning to it. And knowing that this idea can change lives, it could change your life, it could change your co workers, your families, your communities, no matter how small it is, there is a role that it plays. So that one thing I want people to walk away for from this is we need ideas. I have a role in this. And I want to be part of it. I want to participate in this no matter how big or how small your idea you think it is. It has a role and it has a purpose.

George Thomas 12:46
Inbound attendees. I love this because here's the thing, you should be idea machines, you should be building a brainstorming factory, because it comes down to what we'll just got done saying it's about changing yourself, your community, your company and putting that little dent in the universe that you live in. And by the way, while you're putting that little dent in the universe, we'll be here waiting for you in the next episode