Tips For Successful Brainstorming

How to Generate Ideas Without Hitting Roadblocks

Colleagues discussing plans remember the office
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Brainstorming is a word that many creatives loathe. And with good reason. 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 pretty basic rules.

Brainstorming Done Badly

So, before getting to the tips for success, let's talk about the recipes for failure.

First and foremost, brainstorms should not be organized 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're 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're not fully invested in the idea session either. They want to get it over with quickly.

Brainstorms do not require a truckload of people either. 10-12 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're 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, tee up no ideas, 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 and talk and talk, yet they say very little. They can be damaging to a meeting because they will eat up the time, discourage other people from talking, and add nothing but waffle to the end result. Keep the loudmouths away unless they are genuine fountains of knowledge.

    · The Devil's Advocate - There's always one in the room, who will counter every idea with "Let me play devil's advocate for a second." No, let's not. 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's look at some tips to make your brainstorming sessions much more successful.

    · There are no bad ideas - Really, there aren't. 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 can't change and grow if they are killed before they get a chance to. So, do not be afraid to put any idea forward.

    · NO is not a word for brainstorms - NO is bad. "NO, that won't work." "NO, we did something like that last year." "NO, it's a rip-off of another idea." In brainstorms, that's destructive. Be positive whenever you can. The time for critical thinking comes later; first you want volume. The more ideas, the better.

    · Have some sort of structure and/or 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's not a distraction, as many people believe. It's actually a way to get your mind out of one zone and into another.

    · Don't get off track - It's very tempting to talk about last night's football game, TV show, the weather, or anything else. But it's wasting everyone's time. Remember, everyone in that brainstorm is using company time. 5 people in a 1-hour brainstorm equates to 5 hours. So, don't waste your time.

    · Write everything down - Everything! 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.

    Follow these simple rules, and your next brainstorming session should be a lot more successful. If you have any additional DOs or DON'Ts please share in the comments.