Ideation. Brainstorming. Conceptualizing. Creating. Inventing. Planning. Dreaming. Conjuring. Brainswarming (yes, brainswarming; that is not a typo). Whatever name floats your boat, the core concept is the same—a creative process for generating new ideas and problem-solving. Naming preferences aside, there are a variety of approaches to running a successful brainstorming session. And when we slap a generational lens on, it’s clear that each generation brings a unique and equally important flavor to the ideation process.
BABY BOOMERS: THE CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS
We’ve said it time and again: the Boomer generation is not one to simply do things because it’s the way they’ve always been done. That said, the anti-authority tendency of this cohort bumps up against another Boomer trait, a finely honed sense of workplace etiquette. Boomers have been perfecting their professional skills from the first time they entered the workforce. Because they grew up in a fiercely competitive environment, they quickly figured out how to stand out from the crowd. A high degree of professionalism gave them that extra edge.
What does this mean in terms of idea generation? For starters, Boomers will most definitely be game for new ideas. They are, after all, the movement generation (civil rights, anti-war, women’s rights). They’ve been frontrunners in disrupting the status quo from their youth and will also bring that idealistic optimism that is a result of all the positive change they’ve created. They’ll also expect a clear sense of order and probably some sort of hierarchy in the process. Who is leading the charge? Who makes the final decisions on which ideas are developed and which fall off the plate? Who is the note taker of the group? Boomers are integral to the ideation process because they bring along not only their years of experience within the workplace and their industry, but also a sense of order, organization, and clarity.
GEN XERS: THE (WELL-INTENTIONED) BUBBLE BURSTERS
Gen Xers are often, probably unfairly, given the title of the Debby’s of the generational bunch. (Debby Downer for the uninitiated.) Though at face value this might sound like a negative, Xers’ skeptical eyes are an incredibly important addition to the mix when vetting ideas during brainstorming sessions. Gen Xers will be the Daria in the back of the room piping up to point out the holes that everyone else—in their rush of excitement and adrenaline—may have missed.
We see many generational clashes around this. Boomers feel like all Xers want to do is poke hole after hole in all their ideas. Millennials feel cut off before they can even finish fleshing out a concept. What’s important to keep in mind is that Xers aren’t calling things out just to be jerks. Xers spot the weakness in ideas because a.) they care and b.) they don’t want to waste time developing a concept that has a high likelihood of failure. They are an incredible asset in the role of bubble bursters, because while other generations may be quick to hop on the positivity bandwagon, Xers want to make sure that only the very best ideas are pushed forward.
Another awesome thing about Xers in your brainstorming sessions? They are nothing if not efficient. Work-life balance is always on the mind, so they’ll keep things moving, keep people on point and make sure no time is wasted. Xers also do some of their best thinking alone so will likely come prepared with at least a few solid ideas that are already half-baked.
MILLENNIALS: THE GROUPTHINKERS
Here’s a stat that will surprise no one: 82% of Millennials believe that brainstorming meetings are effective. Millennials love to brainstorm. Authority figures have been asking Millennials to share their opinions and work collaboratively since they were young, and this cohort has brought that desire to work together and share ideas into the workplace with gusto. Sometimes this penchant for sharing and collaborating can get them into trouble, like when they want to change how things are done on day one of a new job. But encouraging Millennials to share ideas is often a win-win for the organizations that employ them. They might come up with something terrible, in which case it’s a teachable moment, or they might think of something brilliant.
When it comes to the actual brainstorming sessions, Millennials are a great ingredient to add to the mix. Teams and teaming is in their DNA, and they are often energized by bouncing ideas off each other, molding and melding until they get them just right. Because Millennials put a premium on democratizing the process, ideas will flow freely, energy will be in full supply, and (with backing from leadership) they can help foster an environment that feels safe and where everyone is encouraged to speak up and share. It’s yet another manifestation of the Millennial inclination towards networks rather than hierarchies, and since you never know where the next great idea might come from, input is encouraged from all participants, not just the boss lady or man.
GEN EDGERS: THE GOOGLERS
Gen Edgers (otherwise known as Gen Z, iGen, Digital Natives) are the next generation to hit the workplace. And, contrary to popular belief, they are not carbon copies of the Millennial generation. BridgeWorks is doing a huge research push this summer to learn more about this intriguing new cohort, but we’ve already produced research showing that these newcomers are different.
We can best illustrate this point with a comment we hear on loop from Xer parents. When Gen Edgers come home to do their homework and hit a rut or question of some kind, do they ask their parents? Absolutely not. In Edgers’ minds, parents know nothing compared to the wealth of knowledge available on the internet. If they have a question that needs answering, these kids turn to Google first. They’ve been downloading information from screens since they could walk, and the internet is by far their most trusted source of information.
A new term we’ve seen used to describe Edgers is “Scrinnovators.” Screens and technology are their go-to resource for innovation. This could mean FaceTime, Googling, scouring websites, creating their own sites, establishing a YouTube presence, etc. The point here is that Gen Edgers recognize that their ideas are best proliferated not in person or via their in-person network, but online. How that tendency will manifest itself once they hit the workplace in just four short years remains to be seen. But we’ve got some ideas…