A new survey by IdeaPaint reveals a great deal about Millennials and idea jamming

I had the opportunity yesterday to speak with Jeff Avallon, vice president of business development at IdeaPaint, the company behind the dry erase paint that turns any surface into a whiteboard. The company has released a 2013 Millennial Workplace Trends Survey, and we chatted about that and related issues.

The company positions itself as a workplace collaboration company, using 30,000 foot statements like ‘turn spaces into creative spaces’ and ‘We exist for one simple reason: to fundamentally improve the way people work’) peppered all over the website.  This is in a way reminiscent of Herman Miller (‘Inventive designs, technologies and related services that improve the human experience wherever people work, heal, learn and live’) and Steelcase (‘For 100 years, Steelcase has been bringing human insight to business by studying how people work, wherever they work. Those insights can help organizations achieve a higher level of performance, by creating places that unlock the promise of their people.’) which could be viewed as companies selling furniture, but are in fact diligently working to understand the relationship of the workplace and its artifacts to the activities we call work, and how to tweak the former to improve the latter.

So, then, it’s no surprise that IdeaPaint offers numerous reports and ebooks to help drive more effective workplaces and work practices, like The New Art of Brainswarming by Kevin Maney. Brainswarming is a term intend to up-end the conventions of brainstorming, which has fallen into disfavor in the creative community. There are better ways to ideajam than the formless and flabby brainstorming exercises of old.

One widely held view is that brainstorming is antidemocratic: one person holding the market in front of a small whiteboard, controlling the discussion by choosing which of proposed ideas to write down and which to ignore. IdeaPaint offers an alternative: paint all the walls in your conference rooms with dry erase paint so every participant can have their own marker, and everyone can be contributing in parallel. This is what they call brainswarming.

Yes, it can’t run fully in parallel all the time, but each person could at least get all their thoughts down before starting to look for the edgiest and weeding out the conventional.

In the most recent survey, Millennials are strongly inclined toward that sort of egalitarian and efficient sort of creative interplay.

  • 82% of the Millennials in the study believe that their company’s ideation meetings are effective
  • 68% of respondents feel as though they have an equal say during ideation meetings
  • 65% agree or strongly agree with the following statement: “My company makes it easy for employees at all levels to share great ideas and take them to the next level”
  • 61% of respondents answered yes to the following statement : “I know about the innovation and new ideas percolating at my company.”

I am unsurprised to learn that those in the tech and advertising industry had the highest engagement for Millennials, while education was a real laggard.

What I was also not surprised by was the degree to which Millennials favor face-to-face: 74% of respondents prefer small group coworking to spark innovative ideas. Avallon made the case that Millennials are obsessed with turning ideas into reality, and they chafe when placed in a context where that is block in any way.

Knoll, another office furniture company, conducted research in 2012 that showed Millennials like ‘quick, casual, and socially tinged meetings’ rather than the formal, overly prepped, fat slide deck meetings that Boomers prefer. This is supported by IdeaPaint’s new study. So we can expect a fast transition over the next few years to a new style of idea jamming, that is faster paced, looser, and much more geared to quickly turning ideas into reality. Oh, and every flat surface transformed into a backdrop for creativity.


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