Public Relations Tactics

Porter Novelli CEO Brad MacAfee on Finding Big Ideas

December 1, 2017

Brad MacAfee [albert chau]
Brad MacAfee [albert chau]

As CEO and senior partner at Porter Novelli, Brad MacAfee knows that it’s not his primary duty to generate the global agency’s great ideas. The role of a leader, he says, is to foster an environment in which creative thinking can flourish. He explored this topic at the PRSA 2017 International Conference on Oct. 9 in Boston. Before his session, titled “Innovation in Leadership,” I talked with him about brainstorming and stimulating creativity. Here’s an edited excerpt from our conversation.


What mistakes do new leaders make?

So often, when you become a leader, you think that everyone is turning to you to solve the issues. I look at it differently. I think it’s the leader’s responsibility to create an environment where everyone can be the big thinker or help solve some of the opportunities and challenges within an organization or with clients.

If you create the environment, then you’ve multiplied the number of big thinkers you have. If everything seems to have to flow up to the top, then you’re limiting the capacity of an organization to think more broadly and to innovate.

 

How does a leader work with a team member who may be more introverted, especially during group sessions?

Some people don’t function well in that setting. Some people process. They may have a really interesting idea, but they may have felt as if they missed their opportunity in the room.
So how do you create the opportunity for people who think or process differently? We often ask everyone to write something down. Reading off a piece of paper doesn’t feel as daunting as coming out in the moment in a brainstorming session to share an idea or thought that you want to enter into the conversation. In those moments when they are empowered is often what they need.


Brainstorming sessions have traditionally been the go-to method for producing ideas. How productive are they?

We hear time and time again that the brainstorm itself is not the most productive way to get to great ideas. It’s a great opportunity to immerse, to team-build and to start the creative process. But brainstorming isn’t typically where all the best ideas end up being sparked. It usually happens afterward.

The brain keeps working on opportunities and challenges. You have to create opportunities for people to come back and participate. Have multiple sessions, so it’s not all about that one meeting, and everyone has to be on. There are great things that happen in a group, and there are great things that happen individually.

John Elsasser

John Elsasser is the editor-in-chief of Tactics. He joined PRSA in 1994.

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