One of the biggest challenges Ed Stevens faces is how to do more with less. As president of Stevens Strategic Communications Inc., a full-service integrated marketing, corporate and crisis communications firm, he falls back on a lot of his former military experience of collaboration and teamwork to do that with his 19 employees.
Smart Business spoke with Stevens about how to drive collaborative brainstorming.
How do you foster productive brainstorming?
We like to give an amount of background to all of our participants so they’re prepared before they come into the meeting. We have some sense of what they’ll be talking about. We share research, competitive information. We sometimes have some rough ideas that maybe the client shared with us so that people can think about where we are.
Sometimes what I like to do is start the meeting by coming out with an idea that gets their juices flowing — something that could be even very controversial so they could say, ‘No, that’s the absolute wrong thing to do, and you’re supposed to do it another way.’ If I can set a bar as to what would be pleasing to me or what I thought would be appropriate for a client or to solve a problem, my hope is to walk away from a brainstorming meeting with something far better, and if that happens, it’s been a successful session.
How do you get the creative juices flowing?
Show what the competition is doing or what the problem is. We do an amount of crisis communications here, too, but if you state the problem or say, ‘This is what we’re up against,’ it’s like a war room atmosphere, and you get right into it. See what other people are saying, and you begin to think things through in terms of the message and the graphics that have to be a part of what the solution is. … You can take off from there.
Knowledge is power. That really is true. From the knowledge, comes the good questions.
I was in the military. … When I think about it, a lot goes back to my days in the military where we thought in terms of economy of force and thought in terms of strategies and tactics and how we win the war, and that’s really what we like to do here.
What did you learn from your time in the military that applies to leading today?
The army especially, everything is tied together, it’s regimented, everybody has defined roles. That’s different from (what) we have today. We have a medium-size public relations and advertising firm — we have to wear more hats than a typical military job description because everybody has specialties that you have to deliver on, and here you have the flexibility of doing a number of things. We all have to be flexible. How many jobs do each of us have before we retire and how many things/experiences do we have? Certainly in the military, over time, you have a lot of different experiences, as well.
What kinds of tips can you give to people to be more flexible and wear multiple hats?
I think that sometimes we want to do what we like to do versus what has to be done. I think that we have to force ourselves to get out of our comfort zone in order to get things accomplished, whether it’s for ourselves, our clients or our families. For me, that’s where the focus needs to be. Everybody says, ‘Get out of the box.’ Well, it’s not necessarily that, but when things have to get done, you have to be flexible to go to where things need your attention the most, and it takes a leader who really looks at the capabilities of the team and fits themselves into the team to make for a stronger result at the end. We can be far more successful if we contribute our God-given talents as best as we can but know that we can’t do it all, but if it has to get done and you’re the leader, then it’s up to you to get it done. Get in there and hop in the foxhole.
How to reach: Stevens Strategic Communications Inc., (877) 900-3366 or www.stevensstrategic.com