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Tips for hosting a successful brainstorming session

(BUSINESS) Brainstorming is a powerful business tool, but most sessions are a waste of time due to being poorly planned.

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There’s power in numbers – especially when it comes to creativity and innovation. But if you’re going to host a brainstorming session with your team, there have to be some expectations, ground rules, and order to the process. Otherwise, creativity can quickly turn to chaos.

What is a brainstorming session?

A brainstorming session is a gathering of minds with the expressed purpose of generating creative ideas and thoughts around a particular topic, project, challenge, or opportunity. The premise is that there’s exponentially greater creativity when there are multiple minds in the same room.

“Besides simply generating new and unique ideas, brainstorming meetings bring people together where they can all contribute to the creative process,” notes Lucidchart. “Often, this element of brainstorming becomes more valuable than the ideas shared in the actual meeting.”

When you have a successful brainstorming session, individual team members leave feeling valued and empowered.

Not only is there a sense of fulfillment that comes from contributing ideas, but there’s a feeling of being smarter when you leave.

Tips for brainstorming session success:

For best results, brainstorming sessions need to be thoughtfully planned out. And if you put the following tips into action, you will be quite productive:

1. Invite the right people.

Hosting a successful brainstorming session begins with inviting the right people. Typically, it pays to have a variety of people. This includes a mixture of high-level employees and entry-level employees, introverts and extroverts, Type A and Type B personalities, etc.

Likewise, you want to be sure you’re not inviting too many people. When you have too many people present, it’s easy for a few people to steal the show while everyone else remains passive and provides little-to-no contributions.

2. Set the proper expectations.

A good brainstorming session starts with preparing individuals for what to expect. This happens both before the meeting and at the start of the meeting.

Setting expectations begins when you extend the invitation to attend the session. Clearly explain what the session is about and how it will go. Give them a specific timeframe and let them know if they need to show up with anything prepared.

Once the meeting begins, explain what will happen, set ground rules, and make sure everyone understands that a brainstorming session is designed to produce as many ideas as possible (not necessarily pick the best one). In other words, it’s not good practice to shoot down people’s ideas. Instead, everything gets brought into the light and can be filtered and refined at a later date.

3. Use the Right Tools.

Having the right tools on hand can make any brainstorming session much more efficient. One of the best applications is a platform called Box Notes. This online note-taking app allows teams to live-scribe notes in real-time (all at once or individually). This makes it perfect for both in-person brainstorming sessions, as well as virtual ones.

You may also find it helpful to have some sort of timer app or countdown clock that helps you stay on track. It’s easy for time to get away from you, but with a pre-programmed clock, you stay on task and can fluidly move from one part of the session to the next.

4. Promote creativity.

Do everything you can to promote a creative environment where people are most likely to bring fresh, innovative ideas. And this starts with the location of the brainstorming session.

“It’s easy to auto-default to the same old conference room every time you need to call a meeting,” Atlassian admits. “But our brains love novelty, and being in a new location can also exercise our brain’s neuroplasticity, or our ability to think about things in a new way. By switching up locations, you can improve the quality of ideas that come out of that brainstorm.”

Additionally, factors like lighting (natural sunlight), music (jazz or instrumental tunes), and even aromas (like tangerine oil, frankincense, or clary sage) can all boost creativity.

Supercharge Your brainstorming session.

Hosting regular brainstorming sessions is always a good idea. And if you implement the aforementioned suggestions, you’ll find that your sessions are even more creative and productive than usual. What are you waiting for? Get started today!

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he's not consulting, glued to a headset, he's working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Business Entrepreneur

The next Amazon delivery partners are your corner mom-and-pop shops

(ENTREPRENEUR) Amazon has been stepping up their game, and their newest strategy is to include small business owners, mom-and-pop shops, and entrepreneurs.

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Samsung photo with amazon app loading page.

The world is reeling from supply chain issues from missing menu items at your favorite restaurant to a nationwide baby formula crisis. Amazon is one of the largest retailers in the world and its adaptation strategy is a return to the basics: work with local, small-town retailers. Yes, you read that right. Amazon is taking a grassroots approach to getting the goods to outlying and underserved communities.

Amazon is aware that its shipping speed to rural areas sometimes leaves much to be desired. Shipping directly to a person’s home in rural areas without Amazon facilities nearby and fewer available drivers causes delays. Shipping to an Amazon locker in the nearest metro takes less shipping time, with the tradeoff being the consumer picking up the responsibility for the last leg of the process. This isn’t always a valid option for a lot of people. What if you don’t drive and you need that particular item immediately? Many members of these isolated communities may be elderly or have poverty barriers to traveling long distances. Low-wage workers often have trouble finding time to go out of their way. Sure, you could ask your neighbor or there are other services, but that isn’t providing equitable service to disadvantaged populations. That’s one of the reasons Amazon’s new strategy for rural delivery is so useful.

Not only do the packages get to their destinations fast, but small businesses working with Amazon add an income stream by playing a role in the package journey. For small businesses reeling from the pandemic and lagging rural economies, this work with Amazon offers an opportunity to pull in much-needed capital by doing something as simple as delivering packages in their hometown. They don’t have to drive all over creation, just in their hometown which will reduce carbon emissions. Right now, with the gas prices as they are, that’s a huge plus.

There are other pluses to this too. By working with small businesses, Amazon is bolstering rural economies and empowering isolated communities. They’ll have more purchasing power, which is a win for everyone. Amazon is actively helping small businesses and it’s a great reverse on the trend of forced obsolescence we usually see when big-box retailers are involved.

If you’re struggling with supply chain issues, consider taking a page out of Amazon’s book. Get in touch with local small businesses in your area and see if you can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. If you are a small business, be open to partnerships and opportunities to diversify your income to help stabilize yourself in an uncertain market. It’ll help you both in the long run, increasing the resiliency of both businesses.

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Business Entrepreneur

Having client difficulties? Protect yourself with an exit strategy clause

(ENTREPRENEUR) You want to keep around that one client that pays your bills but when they are difficult make sure you can run away from a gig gone wrong.

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Client exit strategy

I am not a lawyer. Do not take legal advice from a news story.

BUT

Over at Hongkiat, Veronica Howes has a great piece about the rights that every designer should give themselves when it comes time to make a contract. It’s not just good advice for designers, though. Anyone at the mercy of the client revision deserves to know these tips.

Many of them are about making sure that the rights to your work are secured. That’s important! Work-for-hire has always been treacherous territory. But in the gig economy, when more people than ever are doing contract work, holding on to your intellectual property is important, if you can swing it.

But just as important? Knowing when to walk away — and having the freedom to do so. Having an exit strategy is important to everyone who has ever had a bad client experience, trust us on this one.

There are plenty of reasons you might need to do this. Creative differences, a work environment you weren’t expecting, or even just an unreasonable number of revisions. Obviously, you never *want* to lose work, and you never want to leave a client unsatisfied. But sometimes walking away is better emotionally and financially than finishing the gig.

Writing in a “kill fee” can help you do this safely. A kill fee is a guarantee that you still receive some compensation for the work that you did, even if that work wasn’t completed. It’s an exit strategy. If you sink a year into a project for a client and then they decide to move in a different direction, the kill fee makes sure that you didn’t just waste a year of your life. It’s an important safety tool for anyone freelancing.

The standard phrasing to include in the contract is: “Termination. Either party may terminate the contract at any time through written request. The Company shall upon termination pay Consultant all unpaid amounts due for Services completed prior to notice of termination.”

And it is worth talking about the specifics of the kill fee. Some may charge for hours already worked regardless of who terminates the contract, others may choose to keep a retainer, and so forth. Think that through and include it in your contract.

Now, let’s talk about revisions. Half the time, the reason you’d want an escape clause is that the work wasn’t scoped correctly in the first place. You need to be very clear about the expectations of the amount of work that’s going to go into a job.

Let’s say you quote someone a flat fee of $100 for a tiny project because you expect it to take you an hour or two. But suddenly, there are 12 people at the client’s office arguing over what the project should actually be, on a conceptual level, and you’re caught in the crossfire while they re-imagine the project you’ve already finished. The worst-case scenario here is that you’re stuck doing dozens of revisions, and with each minute you spend, your hourly rate just dwindles down to nothing.

Setting up an exit strategy with appropriate expectations ahead of time (in writing) can really save you here. Allot for one major revision of the work and some touch-ups, or maybe three rounds of revisions. Do whatever’s appropriate for your field and the scope of the work. But be sure that the expectations are clear, have it in writing, and be sure you’ve got that escape hatch at the ready if things go past it.

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Business Entrepreneur

Many entrepreneurs facing mental health issues don’t get help [part two]

(ENTREPRENEUR) It isn’t a financial issue or a refusal to admit a problem – here’s why many entrepreneurs struggle with mental health and never seek help.

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sadness depression mental health

Nearly 44 million adults experience an episode of mental illness in any given year according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Of these, the experience of 10 million adults in the United States with mental illness was so serious that it substantially interfered with a major life activity.

A significantly higher percentage of entrepreneurs studied showed signs of mental illness than did the general population according to research conducted at the University of California in 2015.

Only 41% of adults who needed them received mental health services in the past year. What prevents us from getting the assistance that we so desperately need?

…To Read Part 1 of This Series…

Although a common problem among us, mental illness in America, in all its forms, is still marked by stigma and shame. This spurious perception of a shameless disorder has been partly responsible for individuals not getting the help they need.

“It’s much more difficult to think about an anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder helping a person excel in business,” said Claudia Kalb, author of Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities, speaking to the Harvard Business Journal.

“Stigma stems from not understanding what mental health conditions are all about, and not realizing that we all have at least some of these characteristics, “ said Kalb. “Part of the reason to learn more about these conditions is not to label people, but to better understand where people are coming from — and how, in a business setting, some of these attributes can be positive.”

While it’s very tempting to stay afraid of the stigma of a diagnosis, understand that you’re not alone, and that we all share similar problems from time to time.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Americans hoped access to personal healthcare insurance would be both easier to obtain and less costly. The U.S. Small Business Administration reported in 2014 that over 75% of businesses are known as “non-employer” firms. These firms create a single job — typically the business owner — and have no one else on the payroll.

Because of the changes in insurance laws, many of these individuals were faced with having to leave health care options that they many have had under prior insurers and face higher rates on the new healthcare exchanges for insurance plans that were less comprehensive.

Premiums for some insured have risen nearly 10% in the past two years, and depending upon the state in which they live and income targets, many individuals are bracing for steep increases in insurance prices this year, with estimates ranging from 16% to 65%increases.

As the publisher of the Washington Post, Newsweek, and owner of multiple television and radio stations, Phil Graham was a man with money and power. Yet, despite his wealth and privilege, he was not immune to mental illness. His journey with severe mental illness began in 1957 and continued for years thereafter.

Katherine Graham never forgot her husband’s tears, even decades later. “He was in real tears and desperation,” she told The Baltimore Sun, “he was…powerless, immobilized.”

In an era in which the stigma was profound and the treatment options severely limited, there was little help that could be found, and Phil’s rapid descent into illness included hospitalization and invasive electroshock therapy, all to no avail. Throughout it all, Katherine carried out the doctor’s orders, trying to talk Phil out of manic depressive episodes, speaking for hours on end to try to bolster his spirits.

We know that we ask our loved ones to carry large burdens for us an entrepreneurs, and try to ease their load. Yet, by not looking for help in an attempt to not be a bother to them, we don’t help them.

A study by Rogers, Stafford, and Garland at Baylor University found that for family members of those with mental illness, there were high levels of both subjective and objective burdens reported, with many family members struggling to process through their own feelings about the mental illness and their loved one.

We do not ease the path for our loved ones by refusing to seek and get the help we need, but instead damn them with a heavier burden, despite our well-meaning intentions.

In her powerful work, The Dangers of Willful Blindness, Margaret Heffernan, discusses the all-too-familiar concept of people not wanting to allow themselves to think about things that end in conflict or that rock the boat, personally or professionally.

“We can’t notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial,” writes Heffernan. “We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs.”

For many of us, it’s not that we don’t want to admit that we need help, but rather that we simply cannot allow ourselves to see it — even in the best of times! If you’re struggling to see life clearly through the lens of a mental illness, it is even more difficult.

Being open with one’s self about things that are real and things that are not, and acknowledging that things might not be okay, is the first step to finding assistance.

You don’t have to find help all alone. Reaching out to someone for help can often be uncomfortable, especially about a topic that is as personal as your own health, but doing so is the critical step towards recovery. Find a trustworthy partner for your recovery who you trust to help you find someone who can provide the level of assistance you need.

While your healthcare provider is the best first stop to discuss things that are going on with you physically or emotionally, it’s important to have a support network who can be there for you in between doctor visits.

There are other, more immediate resources for those who need them:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 either by calling 1-800-273-8255 or by going to their website and engaging in an online chat.

For those who prefer texting options with qualified crisis counselors, the Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 by texting “Go” to 741741. Both options are confidential and are immediate supports for you and your family.

Once you’ve begun treatment or counseling, stay educated and informed about the challenges that you face. You share control of your pathway to recovery with your doctor or counselor; find out all that you can from reputable sources about the specific challenge you face, and stay involved in making informed treatment decisions about your care.

You’re the most important thing in the world to your family, not your business, not your perceived notions of success — you. If you take away nothing else from this article, know that. You are not alone, and professional help is available.

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