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What impact is technology having on our creativity and what might brainstorm of the future look like? Claire Bridges, author of a new book about creativity in business, In Your Creative Element takes a look.

Real-life ‘Mad Man’ Alex Osborn is often called the grandfather of brainstorming.  Back in the 1950’s in his book ‘Applied Imagination’ he formalized the group process that we all know today, which is still the default setting for many companies.

As a former Creative Director and now trainer I’ve run (and participated in) hundreds of brainstorms, with varying levels of success and I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t one fail-safe way to run a brainstorm. Now there are masses of technological advances that can improve the good fashioned brainstorm into something more fit for purpose in the 21st century.

As part of the research for In Your Creative Element I interviewed Dr Sara Jones, Senior Lecturer, Creative Interactive System Design at the Cass Business School in London, an expert in the field whose job it is to keep up to speed with the latest advances. She told me: “Who knows where developments in AI, robotics, Internet of things, big data and block chain technology will take us over the next thirty years?

For the moment though she says: “Computers are great at processing, storing and letting you search through huge amounts of information, but as yet are not so good at empathy, emotion, and being creative without human assistance.”

The basics of brainstorming have all had a tech makeover

Jones says: “Digital pens, for use on whiteboards, tablets or plain old paper have come a long way in the last few years, but all still require at least some set-up, and few have the familiarity and flexibility of the non-digital equivalent in terms of immediate ease of use. Digital post-its now also come in many forms with increasingly sophisticated functionality, with some tools, like Post-it Plus, offering perhaps the best of both worlds, in which you can write down your ideas using old school pen and post-it style paper, but then capture these digitally. This enables you to share ideas with colleagues who missed the session in which they were generated to reorganise them on the fly, and incorporate them into future digital project documentation.”

Jones adds: “There are an increasing number of tools are more or less explicitly aimed at supporting creative professionals. Stormboard and Popplet allow you to share ideas online, perhaps after a creative session. Search tools, like Yossarian offer a more creative approach to searching for information online than more conventional alternatives.

I also interviewed Duane Holland, Founder at Cross-Discipline Creative Consultancy, DH READY who is working with UCL on AGENCY 2030, a project exploring how science, technology and culture will impact the marketing landscape of the future.

He told me how emerging technologies could impact idea generation. Holland explains: “There are many new technologies that can enhance the overall creative output for individuals and groups. One specific area is the correlation between environments and mood enhancement, which can be hugely powerful in identifying, enabling or sharing people’s psychological and emotional states. The Centre of Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at UCL developed an experiment that used EEG technology to track brainwaves in an office that was then represented as colours to show people’s true mood such as happiness, sadness or anxiety. The colours became an indicator to other people in the office helping them emotionally connect with that person without using words. Taking the same application, imagine if we organised brainstorms when people felt most creative and not at scheduled times. Using brainwave technology we could pull people in during their ‘golden hour’ (most optimal time) rather than being distracted by other psychological detractors that could impact on their creative ability.”

Beam me up Scotty

Holland also told me about another emerging technology, which sounds fantastical and is at the very cutting edge of what is possible. He explains: “A recent study called ‘beaming’ explored the idea of teleportation and successfully transported a real person, to a real location, in real-time using combined emerging technologies and methods, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, haptics (applying touch to interact with computer systems), neuroscience, robotics and 360 degree cameras. This opens up the opportunity for individuals and groups to take part on ‘telepresence tours’; journeying through new spaces and meeting new people to find new ideas and inspiration when geographic distance and access is no longer a barrier. Imagine a brainstorm session for a fashion brand where you could visit and observe street wear tribes in Harajuku, Williamsburg and Berlin all in an hour.”

If you’re still shouting ‘brainstorm, room 1, in 5 minutes’ and not taking advantage of any of the new possibilities that these new technologies offer, perhaps a brainstorm upgrade should be on the agenda for 2017.

Written by Claire Bridges, Chief Spark at Now Go Create and author of In Your Creative Element a new book on creativity published by Kogan Page, with case studies and tips from creative experts and organisations including the United Nations and Twitter as well as some of the world’s most successful advertising and PR agencies.

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Claire Bridges

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