News;   4 years ago

Bigger, Better Ideas: Get the Most Out of Your Brainstorm

By Rachel McInnis

Brainstorming should be like the recess of our workdays, right? After all, it’s designated time to let our imaginations go wild.

But we’ve all seen it gone astray… the same old ideas, one dominating voice or a group of shy participants, hesitant to share for fear their ideas will be instantly squashed. And what do we get? Womp, womp: limp, expected ideas.

Rest assured, the productive, inspiring, energizing brainstorm isn’t a unicorn (though unicorns, fairies and other creatures of our imaginations are certainly welcome anytime). Here are a few well-honed tips and tricks for better brainstorms, whether you’re the moderator or the participant.


1. Set out with a clear task

Even blue sky thinking should be focused on a particular, very specific task. It’s not a bad thing to have multiple brainstorms – use each to hone in on different aspects of a larger project, or use each successive brainstorm to delve deeper and get more tactical.

I like to start each brainstorm by reinforcing the task. I even write the objective on the board and keep it there for the course of the meeting as a visual reinforcement.

2.  Assign pre-thinking

Starting with a clean slate doesn’t necessarily mean starting from scratch. Prime everyone’s minds by asking participants to do some strategic planning in advance – get them thinking about the problem at hand, the target or the relevant industry.

In the past few weeks, my pre-thinking assignments have included finding reference images that make me feel the way we want our target to feel, bringing in an item that makes me nostalgic for childhood and checking out a competitor’s social media.

Reviewing each person’s pre-thinking is a great way to start a brainstorm – think of it like a warm up exercise before a workout!

3. No bazookas or buzzkills

“But we’re just being practical!”... “Shouldn’t we spend our time problem solving on feasible ideas?” … “Oh come on! The client would FREAK!”

Practicality is a good thing, so is feasibility and nobody wants a client meltdown. But you’ll never come up with ideas that are new, different and breakthrough if you stay in the safe zone. So designate brainstorms as a time when you let loose and defer judgment to later.

I’ll say that again: defer judgment to later. After your brainstorm, you should gather a smaller group to debate, poke holes and problem solve. The fun part of that phase is taking the outrageous ideas and figuring out how to make them work within your guidelines and parameters.

There should indisputably be a time for judgment. It’s just not during a brainstorm.

4. Let every idea be heard and recorded

Brainstorms need to be a safe place for idea sharing if you want to foster breakthrough thinking. So be sure every idea is not only written down but that everyone also gets a chance to share. Sometimes that means tempering the most enthusiastic attendees and drawing out the quieter ones.

The best moderators are those who can let their own perspective take a backseat in order to prod, encourage and guide. It takes practice – and patience!  

5. Celebrate bad ideas

Even the worst ideas can spark good ideas. Encourage them! They’re often a sign that you’re starting to push beyond preconceived notions or industry constructs. Take a bad idea and focus on it. Build on it, shape it and push it until it works. If you can find the aspect of it that makes it powerful, you can rework it to fit within your brief – and maybe break through.

Sometimes we purposely try to come up with bad ideas using an exercise we call “Get Yourself Fired.” Each participant tries to come up with an idea that is too expensive, too big or too crazy – then we pass it to the person on the right to try to bring it back down to Earth before we discuss as a group.

6. Try tricks and tools to push beyond the obvious

You might think that structure is diametrically opposed to blue sky thinking, but often it’s the key to not only staying on task but also inciting new and different ideas. Bonus: it’s  a great way to make sure every brain is properly tapped when you have a big group!

As moderator, you should dedicate time to pre-planning. Start by assigning that pre-thinking (see above), then build an agenda. I usually begin with 10 minutes to discuss the homework, then spend the bulk of the time on one or two creative exercises (like “Get Yourself Fired”) and finally allow five to ten minutes to capture lingering thoughts and discuss next steps.

Pro tip: in order to stick to your agenda, you’ll want to keep an eye on time. Bring your phone or watch and set alarms!

7. Ban the tech check

In our constantly connected world, it can be hard to disengage. But if you are only half listening to the idea that was just shared, how can you build on it? Close the laptop, and keep your phone in your pocket. If it’s urgent, step out and don’t cause a distraction to the rest of the crowd.

Try them out and let us know how it goes! We’re @moosylvania on Twitter, and we can’t wait to hear your next great marketing idea.


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