Ideas are slippery things. The more you try to catch one, the harder they are to pin down. Then the whole process becomes something of a vicious cycle: Your lack of ideas stresses you out. That stress puts a damper on things even more, and before you know it, you’ve spent two hours staring at a blank page. Panic ensues.
Tips, tools, and methods for developing ideas fast can be a real lifesaver when you’ve got to be creative on tap. The same is even more vital when you’re working as a team. Team brainstorming sessions have the potential to be a hotbed of creativity — but they can be a bit chaotic, with ideas being written down on whiteboards and bits of paper, never to be seen again.
This is where online idea boards come in really handy. They’re interactive, flexible, no ideas get lost — and when the session’s over, people can hop back in and keep feeding thoughts into it. In fact, online collaboration is often better than working face-to-face. Ready to get started? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is an idea board?
During meetings and brainstorming sessions, there’s usually one person responsible for scribbling all those ideas down. This is essentially an ideas board: a single place where all the thoughts are collected. It can include words and visuals and range from whiteboard notes to computer screens to Post-Its on a wall.
Displaying everyone’s ideas visually at the same time makes it easier for the team to engage with each one, as well as come up with new ideas based on what they can see already up there.
What are idea boards for?
Contrary to popular belief, they’re not just for creatives. Idea boards are ideal for any situation that requires an idea or a solution to a problem:
- Creative concepts
- Product names
- Event ideas
- Improvements to an existing product or process
What are the disadvantages of non-virtual idea boards?
On the whole, they’re a great way to spark creativity and get everyone working together — but they’re not without their downsides.
Group thinking sessions can be chaotic unless properly managed: all too easily, big characters dominate the conversation, while the quieter (but no less valid) voices are drowned out.
Then there’s the collating of ideas itself: With so many thoughts flying around, it’s easy for things to be missed off. Then there are problems with visibility: People at the back of the room might struggle to read notes from a distance, plus there’s bad handwriting to decode, sticky notes falling off, whiteboards getting smudged or cleaned, notes lost, and photos languishing in inboxes…
There’s also diversity of the group to take into account — and quite frankly, noisy, fast-paced brainstorming sessions just don’t work for everyone.
Some people are slow, deep thinkers and have their best ideas when left alone to focus. Others like space to think about what they’ve learned and add more thoughts to the pot later. Then there are remote employees to think about — if they’re not there on the day, then they simply miss out, then have to play catchup with someone’s messy notes.
In short, doing everything in one noisy session means a lot of potentially brilliant thoughts go unspoken.
Virtual ideas boards solve all of these problems.
What is a virtual idea board and what are the advantages?
A virtual idea board is exactly what it sounds like: an idea board that’s all online. They’re usually done via cloud-based diagramming tools that have features like commenting, templates, and version control that makes collaboration easy. Here are some of the benefits:
- Everyone gets involved: Virtual ideas boards make it easy for remote teams to log in and participate in the discussion. Real-time collaboration, screen sharing, and live commenting really is a gamechanger.
- Better organization: All the notes are stored in real-time, in a neat, easy-to-digest format (i.e. not handwritten sticky notes that keep falling off the whiteboard). You can also arrange them by color — it’s just a small thing that makes it all a bit easier. Plus, with version control and archiving features, all those ideas that weren’t used can be saved. You never know when you might need them.
- More diversity: Letting everyone add their own ideas to a template makes the process more conducive to accommodating neurodiversity, with plenty of space for different working and thinking styles to shine in their own way.
- Added flexibility: Online ideas boards are a form of asynchronous communication if you want them to be. This means you can work in real-time, but you can also let people dip in and out as their schedule permits (or as ideas come to them).
- Clarity and detail: Having the ability to attach images, documents, links, and videos makes it easier to share more in-depth, visual, or conceptual ideas.
- Endless editing: Having a board that can be endlessly edited makes it ideal for agile methodologies, specifically in sprint retrospectives and project post-mortems.
- Easy sharing: Virtual, cloud-based boards can be shared with other departments, clients, or stakeholders. Then they, in turn, can add their own comments for you and the team to read back.
- Seamless goal-setting: It’s easy to turn all those ideas into tangible goals. Simply copy and paste your chosen ideas into Kanban boards, wireframes, scrum boards, and other diagrams which you can then share with the rest of the team.
How to create an awesome idea board
1. Know why you’re doing one
Make sure you and your team know the point of the idea board, so they can start thinking about ideas ahead of time. It’s a good idea to reiterate this before kick-off too: it’ll help inspire a sense of purpose and keep people on track.
2. Invite everyone onto the team
Run through your list of team members and give them access to the virtual idea board. Each person will then be able to contribute their ideas as part of the team.
3. Keep it open and positive
It’s always good to remind people that there’s no such thing as a bad idea — this is the kind of ethos everyone should uphold. As team leader, lead by example and respond positively to everyone’s ideas, even the ones that feel a bit ridiculous (looking at you, Google Glass). You never know, that idea could be the one that works.
This openness gives people the encouragement they need to keep going. If group members dismiss ideas as they come in, you’ll find people become more reserved because they’re worried about what they say will be rejected. Keep them all, then trim the list down later together.
4. Edit your list
Once you’ve got all your ideas down, it’s time to choose your favorites. It’s best to do this as a group — which you can do in real-time or asynchronously via the online board.
First, remind everyone of the central goal (put it in writing in a prominent place on your board), then start eliminating ideas that don’t directly answer the main objective. Ideally, leave some time between brainstorming and this stage so people have had plenty of time to fully consider every option.
The good thing about a digital idea board is that columns and drag-and-drop cards make it easy to organize items according to type or status. You can also archive things, so ideas never truly disappear. This is great for future projects: Something that’s not suitable right now might come in handy a little further down the line.
Virtual ideas boards make it easy for teams to collaborate and collate ideas, whether they’re in the same office or miles apart — something that’s becoming increasingly important as companies move towards more flexible, remote ways of working.
Cacoo, our own diagramming tool has a cache of pre-made templates means you can get started right away, while live editing and commenting, charts, free-draw tools, and in-app chat makes the whole process that little bit more collaborative.