Brainstorming is a word that many creative people loathe. When you get a dozen people in a room and tell them to throw some ideas around, it often leads to frustration and a lot of wasted time. The reason is because brainstorms, like so many other meetings, are not structured correctly and people don’t abide by some basic rules.
Brainstorming done badly
Brainstorms should not be organised first thing in the morning or just before quitting time. In the early morning, people have things to do, fires to put out, and they are not at their best. If you start at 9am, a 9:15am brainstorm will not be met with enthusiasm, or everyone’s undivided attention.
Similarly, when people are ready to leave work, they are not fully interested in the idea session either. They want to get it over with quickly.
Brainstorms do not require a truckload of people either. Ten to 12 people sitting around a table trying to produce ideas will rarely be successful. This is a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.
There are also certain types of people in brainstorms that are not conducive to building up good ideas. These archetypes include:
The stop sign – This person constantly stops the free flow of ideas to interject their own agenda. You are talking about one thing, they butt in and switch topics. It stops the conversation dead. You do not want a Stop in your brainstorm.
The naysayer – Whatever the idea is, it’s always wrong. It just won’t work, or it’s not worth exploring, or it’s been done before, or it’s off brand. These people suck the energy out of the room like a Dyson.
The quiet one – Brainstorms are there so that people can share ideas, help them grow and create great new ads. People who say nothing, or close to nothing, all through the meeting are not worth having in it. The exception of course is someone who says very little but comes out with incredible gems when they do. But these people are rare. Usually, a quiet participant will do a lot of nodding and leave without saying a word.
The loudmouth – At the other end of the spectrum is someone who loves the sound of their own voice. They talk continuously without stopping. They can be damaging to a meeting because they will take up all the time, discourage other people from talking, and add nothing to the end result. Keep the loudmouths away unless they are genuine fountains of knowledge.
The devil’s advocate – There is always one in the room, who will counter every idea me play. This is a place where we generate ideas, not a place to question everything and every possible outcome.
Brainstorming done right
Now you know a few of the reasons brainstorming sessions can fail, let us look at some tips to make your brainstorming sessions much more successful.
There are no bad ideas – In a brainstorming session, every idea goes up on the board. The reason is simple, two wrongs can make a right. Put ideas next to each other, and they can evolve into something incredible. Maybe the next big viral video. But they cannot change and grow if they are killed before they get a chance to. So, do not be afraid to put any idea forward.
Have some sort of structure of moderator – Brainstorms can quickly go off the rails if there’s no one around to guide it, or there aren’t goals set up. Remember why you’re there, what you’re working against, and bring exercises to the brainstorm that can help spark ideas.
Bring mind stimulation – Play doh, lego, pens, markers, crayons, all that kind of stuff is really useful in a brainstorm. It is not a distraction, as many people believe. It is actually a way to get your mind out of one zone and into another.
Do not get off track – It is very tempting to talk about last night’s football game, TV show, the weather, or anything else. But it is wasting everyone’s time. Remember, everyone in that brainstorm is using company time. Five people in a one-hour brainstorm equates to five hours. So, don’t waste your time.
Write everything down – You never know how ideas will interact with each other, or how two words on a board could create something brand new. You’ll also want to share the results of the meeting, and you can’t do that from memory.