On Brainstorms: A Study In Staging Success

February 10, 2016
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For most people working in a creative service industry, the start of the year is a time for idea development and delivery. These creative ideas don’t just craft themselves, and they typically require the participation of multiple personalities offering their expertise and experience. Setting the right scene for those concepts can mean the difference between coming home with mostly minnows and hauling in a trophy catch, so let’s talk a little bit about brainstorming.

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Advance Notice is Noticeable
It’s no secret that the best ideas delivered in brainstorms probably weren’t conceived on the spot. Amid the frantic pace of everyday agency life, it can be easy to let the preparation process play second fiddle to the brainstorm itself, but it plays an equal role in the success of your session. If your timetable allows, give people plenty of time to consider the problem, however subconsciously. A handful of your coworkers are probably naturally agile thinkers and likely don’t need much of a heads-up, but there’s also a strong likelihood that others need more time to process before delivering in a public forum. If you’re sending out an invite the day of the brainstorm, you might not be giving some of your peers the opportunity they need to process the challenge and consider the angles.

An Even Playing Field Gives Greater Opportunity to Excel
Share information extensively and strategically. If you’re asking a group of coworkers to collectively consider a problem, it’s advantageous to provide them with the most well-crafted lens possible. If you have deeper insight from a source regarding relevant details — prior directions that have been taken, ideas that are currently being considered, demographics the client is hoping to reach or even previous promotional materials or brand guidelines — share them. Although it takes more time to gather these materials and communicate them on the front end, you will likely spend way less time correcting the course of the brainstorm to avoid unnecessary dead ends.

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Praise Like a Choir on Sunday
Some people are naturally comfortable in brainstorms; others not so much. As a proud member of the latter camp, I know how insecure the pressure of the forum can make participants feel. This can be particularly true if you have junior staff collaborating with senior leaders, or new employees with veterans of a decade or more. To combat this pressure, and keep conversation moving at a more natural pace, I’ve found it helpful to employ a technique commonly used when approaching students in the classroom. Praise your people directly and by name for their contributions, even if it’s not the strongest idea out of the bunch. While their first contribution might fall a little flat, maybe their third is going to be a home run. However, you’re less likely to ever hear that third idea if they feel defeated following that first at-bat. Preach!

Call It On the Field
There’s nothing more painful than a brainstorm that has lost its legs but is being carried limply along by the host. If your participants have started scrolling through Instagram and pecking away at their inboxes rather than concentrating on their ideas, it’s probably time to call it a wrap. Gather what you’ve gotten, process the host of concepts you’ve received and choose the strongest frontrunners to explore further during the next workshopping session.