How to Get Ideas Flowing

Spark idea creation by encouraging attendee interaction.

Many meeting types—including Ideate, Decide and Produce—rely on attendees to share their ideas, big and small. But getting colleagues to do this and then interact, brainstorm and discuss is not always easy.

Alex “Sandy” Pentland, author of Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science, wrote a whitepaper, The Social Physics of Meetings, which addresses the need for idea exchanges at meetings.

Pentland writes that successfully creative individuals constantly seek out new people and ideas—and, perhaps more important, different people and ideas—while maintaining a positive energy.

To encourage these qualities and actions in your meeting attendees, Pentland offers four suggestions:

1. Kick things off with a “firestarter” talk, which is a format where each member of the group speaks in turn, either to introduce herself or voice thoughts on a topic. Then prearranged small groups of people from similar industries, but with unique perspectives, break off and discuss the presented topic.

2. During general sessions, Pentland suggests using keynote speakers as a way to ignite interaction among attendees. To add incentives that may boost interaction, incorporate contests for best comments and most responses.

3. Create “activity spaces” where attendees can congregate during breaks. These areas should encourage discussion and networking, as well as feature a special activity, like mini golf or painting.

4. Hold team-centric contests that tie into the meeting’s theme and reward interactions with other teams.