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Brainstorm Revampination

February 22, 2011

I’m really into brainstorming. My eyes were opened at my marketing job in college, where I was shown that there are ways to gather ideas beyond searching the internet and making web charts. Startling, I know.

At the design company I work for, I became bogged down in our approach to the process. It went something like this: receive an email with the summary of the client, which included little information beyond expressing the need for a tagline for the upcoming year. The meeting to create that idea would begin in 30 minutes. In the meeting, some co-workers dominated the conversation, and others would literally say, “That idea isn’t going to work.”, “I don’t like that.”, or just stare back in stony silence to someone’s suggestion. The co-workers who already didn’t like the process and lacked confidence started to despise brainstorming, and when they came to a session, never spoke a word or participated. What a nightmare! Brainstorming should be fun!

In my review, my boss realized how much I liked it, and tasked me with revamping our process.

Super exciting! Revamp I did.

I gave everyone 4 clear guidelines that helped to change the entire mindset of our meetings:

  1. Quantity, Not Quality
  2. No Idea Is Stupid, Welcome Unusual Ideas
  3. Withhold Criticism, Suspend Judgment
  4. Foster an Environment of Acceptance

I’ll admit, the change in culture was rough at first. I made it clear that “squelching” ideas was a cardinal sin, and we made a game of calling out the people who criticized. You never know where a brilliant idea will grow from, sometimes the zaney tangents produce the most unique, smart and creative solutions for our clients.

Another key part in the revampination was to create a step in the process that allowed for preparation for our meetings, and a step for evaluation once the meeting is over. Having time to explore some concepts on your own and built up a library of words enables each meeting to start off with a bang and on an elevated level. By having the evaluation step separate, we were able to filter out ideas that were too zaney, not the right tone for the client, or over-used/tired concepts and pull together the best of the best to present. This gave our account team grade-A material that often blows the socks off our clients.

The process goes something like this:

  1. Information Stage: Meeting date will be assigned. Creative Brief will be e-mailed and will be read the day prior to the meeting.
  2. Preparation Stage: Tasks may be assigned and will be due prior to the meeting ā€” things like word lists, coming with 3 concepts, reviewing old, collected themes to find inspiring things, etc.
  3. Brainstorm Meeting Stage: Will commence and last 30-40 minutes. After 40 minutes it has been proven that the productivity of the meeting goes down significantly and the freshness dissipates. Plan a secondary meeting if you don’t feel like you got enough out of the first, but don’t push it.
  4. Evaluation Stage: Team involved in higher-strategy will gather ideas and determine if there is enough from the meeting to gather what they need.
  5. Secondary Meeting Stage: May be held with a different or smaller group of team members to generate additional ideas or help fine-tune what has already been recorded.
  6. Wrap-up Stage: Team involved in higher-strategy will send out conclusion e-mail with tag lines or creative ideas chosen from the brainstorming session ā€” this gives all involved a sense of accomplishment and ownership.

A final key part in the initial reboot was to give everyone a notebook with the guidelines in the front (little reminders never hurt), that was solely dedicated to brainstorming. Much like an artist’s sketchbook, having this notebook is a great resource. We use a lot of key-word lists, so having this handy often saves time. Looking back through the notebook helps to show how satisfying the process can be and all the work we’ve done over the years. I find that bringing the notebook automatically gets me into the right mindset and gives me confidence. I know the pages of my notebook have solutions to past problems, and will hold future answers as well. It is inspiring.

In future posts I will share the new techniques I researched and shared, hefting us out of the doldrums of the typical, unfruitful meetings: coming up with a list of 5, and sharing those 5 things, and than sitting around a table staring at each other while we silently thought of more ideas. Ha ā€” how far we’ve come!

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