How having a chat can boost smarter thinking

Stereotypically, entrepreneurs are seen as isolated geniuses. They come up with a killer idea and then they work tooth or nail to make it a reality. But we know that’s not always the whole story.

Entrepreneurs thrive from interacting with other people. Sometimes we need stimulation from others, and that’s where having conversations comes in hand. We might initially feel that having a conversation is distracting and could detract us from making our ideas a reality, but it could also provide the spark or answer you’ve been searching for. Here are three ways you can use conversations to think smarter:

Word association

Creativity is a big part of any business. Letting your mind drift from word to word can help you make connections that you might not have made. John Ellersby, who runs a teaching consultancy, says that he frequently works with clients who are stuck with where to take their lessons.

Illustration by Jade Brown for Virgin.com

Ellersby explains: “We start with a simple chat, somewhere straightforward like a coffee shop. Somewhere we all feel relaxed. I then ask them what their kids like to chat about in between lessons and we play a game. They might say football, so I say sport, they say tennis, I say balls, they say dogs and so on. By linking words we’ve come up with related ideas that they can base lessons around without sticking to the absolutely obvious first idea.”

Having a casual conversation with a friend

Getting out of your headspace when you’re stuck in a creative rut is a great way to think smarter. One of the ways to do this is by asking all the questions, giving yourself a break from having to find answers to them.

Getting out of your own head and asking other people about their projects and their perspectives could help to move your own ideas forwards. Show interest in their world – you’ll become genuinely interested if you listen properly and it’s also courteous to show interest. If you offer feedback or a compliment when they’re chatting, they’re more likely to open up and reciprocate with you too.

Sir Richard Branson having a conversation with former president of the United States Barack Obama

Another way you can use conversation to help you think smarter and more efficiently is by taking an active interest in what your friend or acquaintance is telling you. If you find yourself always thinking about the next thing you’ll say, try to spend time listening.

Seb Burchell, PR and outreach manager at Mojo Mortgages says: "Conversation is a tool for inspiration. If you immerse yourself around the right people, conversation will naturally produce insightful comments surrounding interesting topics. Apply this type of conversation into a brainstorming session and you’ll find you have a platform for seriously interesting ideas to develop.

"The beauty of conversation is how far a trail of thought can be carried – and this nicely brings me onto my second point. Conversation is a fantastic indicator of how naturally interesting your idea is, for example if a conversation doesn’t naturally ensue from your idea it probably won’t be strong enough to take to the public and press. As a result, think of using conversation to measure the strength of your ideas. I like to use a conversation based theory called ‘The pub pilot’ to examine whether your idea has potential outside of the workplace, with a different group of people – conveniently over a pint."

Creative brainstorm

Sometimes only targeted conversation will do, especially if you already know exactly where you need to take the discussion. What can really help is getting people involved who aren’t involved in your industry. For example, if you design copper piping, getting some friends involved who know nothing about copper piping to chat through your communication strategy is crucial.

Tom Bourlet, marketing manager for Nature's Health Box says: “What’s really important about brainstorming is getting members involved who might not normally get included in these meetings. It can be easy to just include managers and senior members, but some of the best ideas can come from someone who potentially isn’t set in their way of thinking or who might have an alternative view point. However, as you integrate younger or less experienced members into brainstorming meetings, it can sometimes be dominated by a few individuals, therefore it is important to push conversation from all corners and allow everyone the opportunity to speak or express themselves sufficiently.

He adds that there’s more to a creative brainstorm than just having a chat.  “It’s also important to have a debrief conversation at the end of the brainstorming session, as this allows everyone to know where they stand, what the next step is and who should be completing these tasks with set deadlines. It is commonplace for people to come out of a brainstorming meeting invigorated and inspired, yet without set tasks and deadlines.”

Burchell says that the best thing about a creative brainstorming session is that it's quickly clear which ideas work and which don't. "Although many people will say there’s no such thing as a bad idea, within a brainstorming session sometimes ideas are less appealing than others. However, creative marketers will use conversation along with other tools to turn the less appealing ideas into something tangible and attractive to a variety of recipients."

Read what Richard Branson has to say about the importance of opening up.

Head over to our Spotlight series to continue investigating smarter thinking.

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