Many brainstorming sessions are not as productive as they could be, typically because they are poorly planned or managed.
Here are two proven ways to trigger ideas, based on brainstorming experience with Walt Disney Imagineering, JWT, Leo Burnett, and other world-class creative organizations.
While you'll see only marketing and advertising examples, these brainstorming techniques can work for any creative endeavor - any company, product or service.
Brainstorming Quick Start:
- Write the objective, what you want to accomplish. Distribute it to attendees, and post it for all to see during the session.
- Invite a mix of contributors, participants. Split large groups into teams to compete.
- Set a time limit. 30 minutes to 4 hours.
- Announce the objective. Post and explain the rules. See below.
- Capture all ideas as they flow from the group.
- Evaluate the ideas, selecting the best.
- Assign next steps.
1) Write a clear, focused objective.
Write a one sentence focus statement that defines what you want to accomplish.
Be specific. If your focus statement is too ambiguous, too general, people won't know where to start.
Print this statement as large as possible, then stick it on the wall or easel so everyone can see it during the session.
"What events can Fila sponsor to position the brand as fashionable athletic wear?"
"What are some inexpensive offers that will get college students to open an account at Bank of America."
"What are 3 ways to bring the Whizz Mints brand personality to life in our ads?"
"What are some simple ways we can communicate the idea that office.com is the best portal for small businesses?"
2) Select participants for the team.
One team leader. That's the person who writes the focus statement, gets everything organized, and leads the session itself. This person's personality should be a Facilitator, not a Terminator.
Two to three people who are familiar with the project. Invite people from creative and account servicing. Even media and planning.
Two to three people who don't know a thing about the project. This is a good way to introduce fresh ideas. Pick smart people. Imaginative people. People who are in the target audience.
Try not to exceed seven people. If more people want to be involved, then plan more sessions.
Don't invite company heavyweights who might inhibit expression or dominate the flow of ideas.
Send a memo or invitation to all participants specifying the time and date. Encourage casual dress. Include the session focus statement, creative brief, and any additional background information they might find helpful.
3) Prepare for the session.
Select a location that's conducive to creative expression. Perhaps away from the office, certainly a place away from interruptions and noise.
Set aside a reasonable amount of time, anywhere from two hours to all day. Four hours, from 10:00 to 2:00 p.m., with lunch brought in, works well.
Get your tools together. You'll need bold marker pens, big sheets of paper, and tape or pins to fix the ideas you generate to the walls or easels.
Get some toys. One ad agency had a box of masks and drums. They'd start each session by putting on the masks and playing the drums. A great way to get the creative juices flowing.
Bring idea starters, such as:
- advertising award books,
- stock photo books or sites via laptop or monitor.
- a computer with Internet / Google connection,
- a TV set with a stack of award winning commercials which you can run during the session with the sound turned down,
- The Creative Director set's creative development tools via laptop or monitor.
4) At the session.
The team leader should start the session with a word of welcome, and an overview of the project, including a review of the brief.
Next, the leader introduces Rules For Brainstorming. It's important to mention that this brainstorming session is one place and time where anything goes. Where crazy ideas are encouraged. But where negative comments are not, as in "No, I don't like that idea." Or "That concept will never fly with the client." It's a good idea to post these rules on the wall for all to see during the session.
Rules For Brainstorming.
Weird, wild, wacky and off the wall,
ideas are welcome.
Negativity is not.
Build on ideas. Don't shoot them down.
All contributions are welcome and respected.
Do not censor yourself. Just say it.
No interruptions from outside allowed.
(That includes cell phones.)
We will take a short break every hour.
The team leader then reads the focus statement, encourages some preliminary ideas, and writes those ideas on the posters for all to see.
The team leader:
- Should contribute to, but not inhibit the flow of ideas. Don't be too controlling.
- Encourage participation from everyone. And don't let one person hold the stage.
- Bring the discussion back to the focus statement when it wanders.
- Introduce thought starters when energy or enthusiasm falters.
- Introduce creative games when appropriate. With a computer in the room, you can also play AdCracker's IConceptor / IdeaMachine. Or click through some advertising techniques.
About half way through the session, the leader should call "time out” to review and evaluate the ideas that have been generated.
- Take a vote, thumbs up or down on each idea.
- Toss the bad ideas.
- Then look at each of the good ideas and ask if there are ways to improve them, or come up with ideas that are similar.
- After the leader has covered each of the good ideas, it's time to generate more new ideas just as you did at the beginning of the session.
5) Assign next-step tasks.
10 to 15 minutes before the end of the session it's time to summarize what's been accomplished and assign tasks.
Typically you'll ask art directors and copywriters to take some of the ideas and work up concept sketches or story boards.
Be sure to specify WHO will do WHAT by WHEN.
Finally, you should issue a memo to all participants, thanking them, and summarizing the session.
- A creative briefing session is not a brainstorming session. People should have time to digest, to think about the brief before they generate ideas. Well, usually. Not always.
- In an agency environment, a common mistake is for the account service folks to convene a meeting and say, "We've got this new project for IBM, here's the brief, where do you think we should go with this campaign?"
Everyone immediately speed-reads the brief, then tries to answer, "Where should we go with the creative?" That usually turns out to be a waste of time.
Similar mismanagement can occur in any business where people get together to produce creative solutions. So make sure you have a clear objective, and that everyone is prepared, and properly briefed, prior to the brainstorming session.
- You can use this brainstorming process to generate new ideas for just about anything. Including any problem that requires a creative solution, that calls for thinking outside the box.
- Encourage the unconventional. Discourage negativity.
- Build on the ideas of others. Add to them. Steal from them, even. After all, your goal is to produce the best ideas you can for your client or company. Not because it's "My idea," or the "Bosses idea." But because it is the BEST idea.
- The origin of the term, "brainstorm" is attributed to Albert Einstein who wrote, "... and a storm erupted in my mind."
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