Step 2: The Art of Brainstorming

You’re basking in the golden sunshine with that brief in hand, looking over an uninterrupted vista and now all you need to do is start throwing ideas out there. But they need to be good, complete, totally on target, new, focused, articulate, right? Well, wrong. This is a wilderness and you can make of it what you will; ideas are ephemeral and all you need at this stage is to capture glimpses. The most important rule is to have no rules and keep the ideas coming without judging them. Here we’ll gather some top tips for idea generation, welcome the weird and wonderful ones.

**This is part 2 of a 7 article series. Missed step 1? Read A Jargon Free Anatomy of a Creative Brief.

1] Step Outside The Box

Sometimes the best ideas come when you’re occupying part of your mind with something else, thereby effectively silencing the inner critic. You spend many hours at the desk inside the same environment and the same surroundings, so if you’re indoors have some music on – non-lyrical is good, chill out on the sofa instead of in your normal office seats, head to a coffee shop, or make it a stand up meeting, anything to shake up the status quo.

Even better for idea generation is to hit the road: take a walk, get by the sea or out in nature, or immerse yourself in a cityscape, hop on a bike, go to an indoor rock climbing area or basketball court. Ideas are all around you, take a break from the norm and get inspired. Use a notebook or the audio recorder on your phone to periodically capture undiluted ideas.

2] Be A Scribbler

If you’re not venturing out, make sure you get away from your computer. Grab a bunch of different post-its and start scribbling and sticking them on a giant noticeboard or a wall, treat yourself to some coloured pens, splurge on some craft supplies and nice stationary. Go to a place you don’t usually sit and be a kid again. Doodle, scribble, capture ideas in a few words, laugh, have fun, and let the fragments come together later this to inspire the whole.

Alternatively, you can have one person capturing ideas through notes and drawings and then produce a copy for everyone involved. Additionally, encourage people to scribble ideas down during the meeting while others are talking, even if they don’t necessarily have the chance to introduce them there and then but are just inspired by someone else’s flow.

3] Team Up

Some people prefer brainstorming on their own and even make a case for its increased effectiveness, but many prefer a collaborative environment. It is great to arrive with your own ideas, but team brainstorms can develop those ideas by bouncing them between participants and adding different perspectives. A diverse group is good. Ensure there is no judgement and no hierarchy. Ideas-wise, silly is good, sensible is good, wild and wonderful is even better, and it is all about quantity rather than quality. Don’t expect the perfect idea to come out fully formed at this stage, these are only light sketches, many of which will be discarded or shelved for another day or project. If you need to prep in advance this is a good list of tools for business brainstorming and collaboration upvoted by entrepreneurs 

4] Let Go

Much of creative thinking starts with the simple words ‘what if…’. You need to embrace the ridiculous, the utterly fantastic, the weird and wonderful, basically you need to remember what it is like to be a kid where you can create flying machines out of cardboard boxes and jet thrusters out of empty beans tins and have total unfailing belief that they would take you to the moon. Remember, you’re laying down the foundation for an awesome idea but it is as much about the richness of the journey as the destination.

5] Break it down

If you’re finding that the ideas are coming out early and in big chunks and there’s not much else being said it is time to iterate. Go back and look at an idea closely. Examine the ins and outs of it, what makes it an interesting idea, what can you add to it, how can you improved it, what is its essence and how can that be drawn out? A facilitator can be useful here, as can throwing ‘what if…’ questions at it.

6] Democratise

It may just be human nature, but quite often if there is a large group you’ll find one person who is keen to dominate the discussion, or a small percentage that are generating a large percentage of ideas, while others don’t have or don’t take the chance to speak up. If you hit this issue you can consider getting everyone to write down ideas ahead of time then give everyone a chance in a round robin style, though make sure people don’t feel they are being put on the spot.

This one is kind of radical, but have you ever noticed how peoples’ personas change online, especially when they are anonymous and have no fear of repercussion? If you are a big team, or even if you’re a small one, why not hold an anonymous no holds barred electronic brainstorm to completely remove the idea from the originator. Try a tool such as Attentiv, which is free for up to 10 users, and take a look at this article, which is a good write up of the ins and outs of the program.

7] Facilitate

Having someone setting the agenda who is experienced with brainstorming sessions may help you set your targets early so you can then let the arrows fly. The target can be as simple as ‘what symbol would represent this brand well and why’ or ‘how can we make our soap/carrot juice/mashed potato memorable through advertising’. An experienced facilitator can help to mine rich seams which could otherwise get overlooked, and keep or help ease things back on track if they are straying. Brainstorming sessions are normally undertaken with a set amount time, so dividing it up in advance can keep things moving along at a nice pace and make sure you don’t feel there are endless empty gulfs to fear.

8] Game on

Instead of plonking everyone down in front of the given task and expecting them to instantly lay golden eggs while the awkward silence grows, an unrelated warmup can be helpful. Make it silly, make it funny, make it short and sweet. For example, give everyone  3 minutes to answer a question like ‘what is the weirdest use for a hairbrush, or a lemon, or a jelly’, or just about anything else you can think of. Basically, by gamifying the process you let people loosen up and enjoy the sublime and ridiculous, then when it comes to the actual task the barriers to participate are already removed.

The principal things to remember are:

  • have fun,
  • find inspiration from a diverse range of sources,
  • aim for quantity over quality, and
  • put a gag on that inner critic that says the idea is too silly.

As Albert Einstein succinctly put it “Play is the highest form of research”.

Happy brainstorming…

If you need a hand with writing a creative brief, would like Developing Dreams to help you bring your idea to life or facilitate a brainstorm, then please get in touch.

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